Studies: Forests Emerge as a Major Overlooked Climate Factor

This article discusses how plant life affects climate change. Forests Emerge as a Major Overlooked Climate Factor. New work at the intersection of atmospheric science and ecology is finding that forests can influence rainfall and climate from across a continent.

When Abigail Swann started her career in the mid-2000s, she was one of just a handful of scientists exploring a potentially radical notion: that the green plants living on Earth’s surface could have a major influence on the planet’s climate. For decades, most atmospheric scientists had focused their weather and climate models on wind, rain and other physical phenomena.

Scenarios such as a green Arctic or a reforested temperate zone are not as far-fetched as they may seem. A recent study in Nature reported that in the last three and a half decades, tree cover has increased by more than 2 million square kilometers in these regions.

In a study published in Nature Climate Change in April, the researchers found that the closing of stomata would cause half the rainfall changes the regions would see by 2100. Moreover, the Amazon — home to the world’s most carbon-rich and biodiverse rainforest — would get hit with the most severe declines.

Swann is now probing the effects of forest changes at different scales. In a 2016 paper, she reported that wiping out forests in western North America made forests in eastern South America grow more vigorously, while reducing growth in Europe.

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