Worldwide, more than 5m hectares of jungle are being felled or burned down each year. In some countries, notably Indonesia, the situation is getting even worse.
Over time countries trace a “forest transition curve”. They start in poverty with the land covered in trees. As they get richer, they fell the forest and the curve plummets until it reaches a low point when people decide to protect whatever they have left. Then the curve rises as reforestation begins.
Stefan Schnitzer of the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute studies woody vines in the tropical forests of Panama.
The results of his research could have implications for global climate change.
The vines, Schnitzer discovered, reduce the carbon intake of the forests by preventing the trees from growing, allowing more carbon to remain in the atmosphere where it can wreak havoc on the environment.
Red spruce (Picea rubens) is a tree species that researchers once thought was doomed because of acid rain. Measurements of the basal area of red spruce in New England have shot up in recent years, and while climate change is near the top of the list of theories for why, scientists have yet to determine how much of the growth is due to warmer temperatures and more CO2.
Trees are often considered to be expensive-to-maintain assets with little value outside of hard-to-maintain aesthetics. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District thinks otherwise: in a city that reaches temperatures of 113 degrees, they’ve found that subsidizing the planting of more than 500,000 trees is an efficient way to cut energy costs. Shaded buildings use 25-40 percent less energy during the summer: and new data from the U.S.
By extracting core samples from tree rings in the Rocky Mountains, scientists have found that droughts have been even worse in the West. Brigham Young University professor Matthew Bekker found evidence of long droughts, such as a 16 year span beginning in 1703, and periods where the Weber River flowed at just 13 percent of normal.
Permafrost is permanently frozen ground – but shifts in climate is causing much of that ground to melt at an unprecedented rate, resulting “slumping land” which cracks pavement, breaks pipelines, opens holes, and changes the way that trees grow. 7 to 8 percent of the land in the middle boreal zone in Alaska is showing signs of “drunken trees,” trees that are leaning instead of growing upright, as a result of erosion and rising water table.
“Climate change information is often presented at scales that are hard to digest,” said Stephen Handler, the lead author for the Michigan Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis, “This report is designed to give forest managers in Michigan the best possible science of effects of climate change for our particular forest ecosystems, so they can make climate-informed decisions about management today.”
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