Forests Migrate — But Not Fast Enough For Climate Change
We’re all familiar with migration: Wildebeests gallop across Africa, Monarch butterflies flit across the Americas … but forests migrate, too, an agonizingly slow migration, as forests creep inch by inch to more hospitable places.
Individual trees are rooted in one spot. As old trees die and new ones sprouts up, the forest is — ever so slightly — moving. A forest sends seeds just beyond its footprint in every direction, but the seeds that go to the north — assuming the north is the more hospitable direction — thrive a little more than the ones that fall to the south. Over time, this forest would march steadily northwards.
A patchwork of small but dense forests is emerging across Europe thanks to a Japanese botanist who has also planted tiny forests in Japan and Malaysia.
Akira Miyawaki’s projects use saplings of native varieties, adapted to local conditions, to cover sites as small as a tennis court and in patches of roadside.
The method typically uses 30 or more species at a time and is said to grow forests 10 times faster, 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than those planted in conventional ways.
Besides the ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere to combat global warming, the mini forests provide better food and shelter for a diversity of creatures, such as insects, snails and amphibians.
Siberian Forests under Attack
Swarms of the Siberian silk moth, whose larvae eat away at conifer trees in the region’s forests, have grown rapidly amid the rising temperatures. The moths are usually inactive during winter and eat in spring, summer and autumn periods which are now lengthening.
“In all my long career as a specialist, I’ve never seen moths so huge and growing so quickly,” said Vladimir Soldatov, a moth expert, who warns of “tragic consequences” for forests. The larvae, which are taking over larger areas of forest, strip trees of their needles and make them more susceptible to forest fires.
The moth “has moved 150 kilometres north compared to its usual territory and that’s because of global warming,” Soldatov told AFP. In the Krasnoyarsk region of eastern Siberia, more than 120,000 trees have had to be treated to kill the larvae, according to the regional forest protection centre.
Another insect pest, the bark beetle that bores into tree trunks, has also recently colonised the region. It has flourished since 2003 as the climate became milder.
With snow melting earlier in the year in northern Siberia, exposed dry vegetation and soil means fires can spread easily, said Alexei Yaroshenko, who heads the forest section at Greenpeace Russia.
Demand for charcoal threatens Madagascar’s forests
In the southwestern part of the country, charcoal is everywhere: sold on the side of major roads as well as next to coffee shops in remote villages. At about $1 for a sack the size of a large garbage bag, it is cheap even by Malagasy standards. But charcoal comes with a high environmental price that has to be paid by somebody.
Firewood, while not without its own environmental costs, typically entails collecting branches that are already dead and fallen. But to make charcoal people cut down living trees. They then burn the wood in a low-oxygen environment inside a kiln to turn it into nearly pure carbon that burns hotter, weighs less and lasts much longer than firewood — hence its popularity.
At least 15,000 hectares (37,100 acres) of dry forest located to the north and south of Toliara, the closest major city to Mikea Forest, are razed each year for fuelwood, according to the NGO World Wide Fund for Nature Madagascar. Much of this logging is done illegally.
Looking at 323,000 hectares of forest that includes Mikea National Park, the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch reports that approximately 37,000 hectares (91,400 acres) of tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2018 — nearly 11.5 percent of the total area.
Climate change is reshaping Australia’s forests
Australia’s forests are being reshaped by climate change as droughts, heatwaves, rising temperatures and bushfires drive ecosystems towards collapse, ecologists have told Guardian Australia. Trees are dying, canopies are getting thinner and the rate that plants produce seeds is falling. Ecologists have long predicted that climate change would have major consequences for Australia’s forests. Now they believe those impacts are unfolding.
According to the 2018 State of the Climate Report, produced by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, large parts of the country are experiencing increases in weather patterns favourable to fires. The report found that rainfall has dropped in the south-east and south-west of the country, temperatures have warmed by an average of 1C, and a “shift to a warmer climate in Australia is accompanied by more extreme daily heat events”.
In one large shrub species – the south-western native Hooker’s banksia – researchers found seed production has halved in the last 30 years. They say the idea that Australia’s forests are well adapted to the country’s variable climate and can withstand fire and drought, is incorrect. “A big misapprehension is that these things are climatologically flexible, but they’re just not”, explaining that Australia’s dominant eucalypts have “fine-tuned their life history around assumptions of fire frequency”, but “climate change is just blowing that up”.
Massive restoration of world’s forests would cancel out a decade of CO2 emissions
Replenishing the world’s forests on a grand scale would suck enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cancel out a decade of human emissions, according to an ambitious new study.
Scientists have established there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees to grow in parks, woods and abandoned land across the planet.
If such a goal were accomplished, ecologist Dr Thomas Crowther said it would outstrip every other method for tackling climate change – from building wind turbines to vegetarian diets.
Lack of accurate information meant for years experts severely underestimated the number of trees on Earth. Combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites, Dr Crowther and his colleagues arrived at a figure of three trillion – over seven times more than a previous Nasa estimate. Dr Crowther said undervaluing trees means scientists have also been massively underestimating the potential for forests to combat climate change.
Amazon forests failing to keep up with climate change
A team of more than 100 scientists has assessed the impact of global warming on thousands of tree species across the Amazon to discover the winners and losers from 30 years of climate change. Their analysis found the effects of climate change are altering the rainforest’s composition of tree species but not quickly enough to keep up with the changing environment.
The team, led by University of Leeds in collaboration with more than 30 institutions around the world, used long-term records from more than a hundred plots as part of the Amazon Forest Inventory Network (RAINFOR) to track the lives of individual trees across the Amazon region. Their results found that since the 1980s, the effects of global environmental change – stronger droughts, increased temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – has slowly impacted specific tree species’ growth and mortality.
In particular, the study found the most moisture-loving tree species are dying more frequently than other species and those suited to drier climates were unable to replace them.
The ecosystem’s response is lagging behind the rate of climate change. The data showed that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decades had serious consequences for the make-up of the forest, with higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive drier conditions.
The team also found that bigger trees – predominantly canopy species in the upper levels of the forests – are outcompeting smaller plants. The team’s observations confirms the belief that canopy species would be climate change “winners” as they benefit from increased carbon dioxide, which can allow them to grow more quickly. This further suggests that higher carbon dioxide concentrations also have a direct impact on rainforest composition and forest dynamics – the way forests grow, die and change.
In addition, the study shows that pioneer trees – trees that quickly spring up and grow in gaps left behind when trees die – are benefiting from the acceleration of forest dynamics.
The findings highlight the need for strict measures to protect existing intact rainforests. Deforestation for agriculture and livestock is known to intensify the droughts in this region, which is exacerbating the effects already being caused by global climate change.
Europe’s shift to dark green forests stokes global warming: study
An expansion of Europe’s forests toward dark green conifers has stoked global warming, according to a study on Thursday at odds with a widespread view that planting more trees helps human efforts to slow rising temperatures.
Forest changes have nudged Europe’s summer temperatures up by 0.12 degree (0.2 F) since 1750, largely because many nations have planted conifers such as pines and spruce whose dark colours trap the sun’s heat, the scientists said.
Lighter-Coloured broad-leafed trees, such as oak or birch, reflect more sunlight back into space but have lost ground to fast-growing conifers, used for everything from building materials to pulp.
Overall, the area of Europe’s forests has expanded by 10 percent since 1750. Conifer forests expanded by 633,000 sq. km, while broad-leaved forests shrank by 436,000 sq. km. Over the period, Europeans have harvested ever more wood from the forests, reducing their role in storing carbon.
Tropical forests absorb far more CO2 than thought
Tropical forests may be absorbing far more carbon dioxide in response to its rising atmospheric levels than many scientists thought, a new NASA-led study says.
Tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide out of a total global absorption of 2.5 billion – more than what is absorbed by forests in Canada, Siberia and other northern regions, called boreal forests.
“This is good news because uptake in boreal forests is already slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years,” said David Schimel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Forests and other land vegetation currently remove up to 30 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere during photosynthesis.
In case the rate of absorption slows down, the rate of global warming would speed up.
As human-caused emissions add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, forests across the globe are using it to grow faster, reducing the amount that stays airborne.
European forests near ‘carbon saturation point’
European forests are showing signs of reaching a saturation point as carbon sinks, a study has suggested. Since 2005, the amount of atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the continent’s trees has been slowing. This was a result of a declining volume of trees, deforestation and the impact of natural disturbances.
Carbon sinks play a key role in the global carbon cycle and are promoted as a way to offset rising emissions. The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon – essential for life on the planet – is transferred between land (geosphere and terrestrial biosphere), sea (hydrosphere) and the atmosphere. Carbon sinks refers to the capacity of key components in the cycle – such as the soil, oceans, rock and fossil fuels – to store carbon, preventing it from being recycled, eg between the land and the atmosphere. Many of Europe’s forests are reaching an age where growth, and carbon uptake, slows down.
The continent’s forests had been recovering in recent times after centuries of stock decline and deforestation. The growth had also provided a “persistent carbon sink”, which was projected to continue for decades.
However, the team’s study observed three warnings that the carbon sink provided by Europe’s tree stands was nearing a saturation point.
First, the stem volume increment rate (of individual trees) is increasing and thus the sink is curbing after decades of increase. Second, land use is intensifying, thereby leading to deforestation and associated carbon losses. Third, natural disturbances (like wildfires) are increasing and, as a consequence, so are the emissions of CO2.
Wildfires that started burning in the forests and bog lands of eastern Russia at the beginning of June 2012 are still burning unabated.
Wildfires burn across Bulgaria. The State is unable to handle with large extent of the fires and has asked for international help.
Villagers and firefighters throughout southern Bosnia are wrestling with devastating wildfires in a region that has seen record high temperatures and no rain for over two months.