Friday, October 7, 2011

With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors

In his article, Justin Gillis of the New York Times reports on the increasing prevalence of forest fires of extreme intensity, the death of forests by insects, and the culprit behind it all, climate change.

The loss of forests at the hands of man is no new occurrence, but lately, the rate of destruction has increased many-fold. One of the largest destroyers of forests are the incredibly intense fires that have swept through many areas of the American southwest. Fires are a natural part of the forest cycle, however, the fires which have been in the spotlight lately are gargantuan in size and are exponentially more intense and destructive than fires in the past have been, research shows. Scientists argue that moderate forest fires are a regular part of nature and aid in thinning forests and preventing undergrowth from becoming too dense. However, mismanagement of forests in the early 20th century resulted in many small-scale fires being extinguished prematurely. This has resulted in forests that are far denser than normal, and act as kindling for the “megafires” that consume millions of acres of land, devour rural houses, and shatter the lives of those who live there. As fires continue to burn out of control, we lose one of the greatest natural absorbers of CO2 the planet has to offer.

There is much evidence to show that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are on the rise and will continue to do so into the next century unless drastic actions are taken. While this may have many negative effects, it has a positive effect on the production of carbon-absorbing biomass, such as forests. Carbon dioxide gas, the main food source of growing trees, is being taken up in large amounts by the trees in young forests, and to the surprise of scientists, is even seen being absorbed in what were once thought to be “mature” forests. Although this has proven to a positive result from the burning of fossil fuels, there are many negative repercussions that negate this positive effect.

Charles Keeling's Atmospheric CO2 Curve

Climate change is possibly the most well-known result of increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and is responsible for a wide range of effects damaging the forest ecosystem. Increased temperature has fostered the growth of insect populations that call tree bark their home. Research shows that every few years, during the winter, the temperature would drop so low in many forests that no insects would be able to survive and would help to preserve the life of the tree. As climate warms, these insects are no longer frozen to death and continue to cause damage to the trees for an extended period of time.

As bugs burrow into trees and prevent the trees from acquiring the necessary nutrients for survival, this inevitable causes tree death. As trees dry up and die, temperature warms, and the air becomes drier, the stage becomes perfectly set for fires of epic proportions. Unless significant efforts to reduce climate change are made this feedback loop can be expected to increase in efficiency and destructiveness.

Original article can be found here:

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