University of California scientists have revealed how protecting tropical forests can yield climate benefits that enhance carbon storage in nearby areas. They have used climate models and satellite data.
Many climate scientists use computer simulations to mimic the planet’s climate as it exists today and how it may exist in the future as humanity keeps emitting greenhouse gases. These models rely on accurate measurements all the moving parts of the climate system. These includes how much sunlight hits and warms the climate to the response of forest biomass to changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
The list of moving parts is long and one part that has until now remained unmeasured is the degree to which deforestation in tropical rainforests like the Amazon and the Congo contributes to additional forest losses because of its effect on regional climate.
Scientists explained that for a new patch of deforestation in the Amazon, the regional climate changes that happen as a result led to an additional 5.1 percent more loss of total biomass in the entire Amazon basin. The additional biomass loss from the climate effects of deforestation is about 3.8 percent, in the Congo.
Tropical forests store about 200 petagrams of carbon in their aboveground biomass. Deforestation has been removing about 1 petagram of that carbon every year, since 2010. Climate modelers did not consider tree mortality in their climate simulations. But they obtained information about how sensitive carbon stored in vegetation is to climatic changes that result from tree mortality and fire, by combining satellite data with climate variables.