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Forests Laying Down on the Carbon Job

Okay, so climate change isn’t all caused by humans, at least not directly. Turns out that tropical forests have a big part too. Usually the world’s rainforests remove carbon dioxide from the air, through photosynthesis. In a recent article on the news magazine site “Quartz,”  writer Elijah Wolfson reports that scientists are witnessing the inability of forests to regulate and absorb carbon dioxide; tropical forests have been seen as a stabilizer to the growing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that are effecting global climate. Wolfson links the article to a paper published on Oct. 13 by NASA about how “one of their CO2-mapping satellites, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, detected the largest annual rise in the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere in at least 2,000 years.” The satellite images seemed to confirm that the natural carbon removal service provided by tropical forests is dissipating and the forests have been net emitters of CO2, thereby contributing to climate change. Any deforestation projects also compound the ability of forests to soak up CO2.

Scientists think this reversal can be attributed to the very strong El Niño the Earth experienced in 2015-2016. The droughts that accompanied El Niño caused a lot of trees to die; not only didn’t they take CO2 from the air, they rotted and released CO2 into the air. Humans didn’t help by widespread clearing of forests for agriculture and timber, especially in Brazil and Indonesia. Unfortunately, more atmospheric CO2 means more climate warming, means higher likelihood of more strong El Niños, means we have to reduce our own carbon emissions ever farther and faster to preserve a livable world for our children and theirs, and theirs.

 

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  1. This article is quite interesting – I had known that El Niño was causing trees to die, but I did not know that they were dying on such a huge scale. The thought that natural events like El Niño are significantly contributing to forest loss is disconcerting. We are already cutting down huge areas of forests, so the combination of this anthropogenic forest volume reduction and natural reduction must be leading to a virtually treeless planet. How can we help the forests damaged by the effects of El Niño recover? Is there a way to help prevent forest loss from El Niño events in the future other than reducing our emissions to lower the number El Niño occurrences?

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