Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment – Deforestation is the intentional clearing of forested land. Throughout history and into modern times, forests have been destroyed to make room for agriculture and animal grazing and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing, and construction.

Deforestation has dramatically changed landscapes around the world. About 2,000 years ago, 80% of Western Europe was forested. Today that figure is 34%. In North America, about half of the continent’s eastern forests were logged for lumber and agriculture from the 1600s to the 1870s. China has lost vast forests over the past 4,000 years, and now more than 20% of them are forested. Most of Earth’s agricultural land was once forest.

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

Today, the most deforestation occurs in tropical forests, aided by extensive road construction in areas that were once virtually inaccessible. Building or upgrading roads into forests increases their availability. Slash-and-burn agriculture is a major cause of deforestation in the tropics. Using this method of farming, farmers burn large areas of forest and use the ashes to fertilize the land for crops. But the land only becomes fertile for a few years, after which farmers repeat the process elsewhere. Rainforests have also been cleared for logging, livestock grazing, and oil palm and rubber tree plantations.

Illegal Logging And Deforestation: Money Does Grow On Trees

Deforestation can cause more carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. That’s because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, and the carbon is chemically trapped in the trees. When wood is burned, this carbon is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. When there are fewer trees nearby to absorb carbon dioxide, this greenhouse gas accumulates in the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

Deforestation also threatens the world’s biodiversity. Tropical rainforests are home to numerous plant and animal species. Cutting down or burning forests can lead to the extinction of many species. Some scientists say we are already in the midst of a mass extinction event.

More immediately, the loss of trees from forests can make soil more susceptible to erosion. This causes forests to change from closed, wet environments to open, dry environments, making the remaining plants more vulnerable to fire.

Deforestation can be permanent, but not always. In North America, for example, forests in many areas are recovering thanks to conservation efforts.

Chart Showing Effects Deforestation Royalty Free Vector

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Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

Any interactive features on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. The interactive cannot be downloaded. Removal of tropical rainforest south of Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea. Source: Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo.

Deforestation’s Effects On Animals

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, deforestation has made the average hottest days of the year significantly stronger in Europe, North America and Asia, a study has found.

This study considers two impacts of deforestation on climate. First, deforestation releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to rising global temperatures. Second, the large impact they could have on physical processes in the local climate could result in net warming or cooling effects more broadly.

In some regions, the combined impact of deforestation was so great that by around 1980, deforestation played a larger role in increasing temperatures on the hottest days than greenhouse gas emissions, the lead author told Carbon Brief.

Research suggests that replanting trees through afforestation or reforestation could be a way to prevent further increases in temperatures on the hottest days, the authors add.

How Widespread Deforestation In Africa Risks Our Climate Future

A new study published in Nature Climate Change estimates how deforestation has affected temperatures on the hottest days of the year in various countries from the early industrial era to recent times.

Deforestation is a major cause of human-caused climate change. When forests are cleared or burned, the stored carbon is released. Removing trees also reduces an important carbon “sink” that absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.

Since 1990, approximately 129 million hectares of forest (an area equivalent to the size of South Africa) have been deforested by humans. Deforestation, along with other types of land-use change, accounts for about 11% of annual global CO2 emissions. A new study shows that between 1861 and 2000, deforestation accounted for 30% of CO2 emissions.

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

Deforestation can also affect temperature by affecting a variety of physical processes. These effects occur at local and regional scales, but can have global impacts.

The Devastating Effects Of Deforestation * Big Blog Of Gardening

One such process is evapotranspiration, a term that describes the exchange of water between land and the atmosphere.

As part of this process, forests absorb water from the soil through their roots and later release it into the air as moisture, which has the effect of cooling the air above. Cutting down a tree eliminates this cooling effect.

When these physical processes are considered together with the impact of carbon emissions, it can be inferred that deforestation played a “significant” role in increasing temperatures on the hottest days, says lead author Dr. Quentin Lejeune. Lejeune is currently a researcher at Climate Analytics, a non-profit climate science and policy research institute based in Berlin. He tells Carbon Brief:

“During the industrial era, many regions above mid-latitudes experienced high rates of deforestation, especially North America, present-day Eastern Europe, and Russia. “We found that this led to significant regional increases in daytime temperatures on hot days.”

What Are The Effects Of Deforestation In The Amazon?

For the study, researchers used a series of climate models to “reconstruct” temperatures for the hottest days in history between 1861 and 2000.

Their simulations considered the role deforestation plays in temperatures on the hottest days through its effects on carbon emissions and physical processes. They also took into account a variety of other factors that could affect global temperatures, including greenhouse gas emissions, aerosols and volcanic eruptions.

The study found that in regions where at least 15% of forests have been cleared from pre-industrial times to today, deforestation accounts for one-third of the increase in temperature on the hottest days of the year. Lejeune says:

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

“Because deforestation occurred relatively early in the industrial era, we estimate that this process has long been the largest contributor to hot day warming in the region. [This effect] was superseded by the effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the second half of the 20th century.”

How Bad Is The State Of Deforestation?

The map below shows the local impact of deforestation on temperatures on the hottest days in different regions of the world from the present (1981-2000) compared to pre-industrial conditions.

In the chart, red is used to indicate a net increase in temperature on the hottest day of the year, while blue indicates a net decrease. Boxes are used to highlight results for North America (left), Europe (middle), and Asia (right).

Local effects of deforestation on temperature changes on the hottest day of the year from the present (1981–2000) compared to pre-industrial conditions. Colors indicate regional temperature increases (red) and decreases (blue). The boxes highlight results for North America (left), Europe (middle), and Asia (right). Source: Lejeune et al. (2018)

The results show that the impact of deforestation on temperatures on the hottest days was greatest across North America and Europe, Lejeune says.

Scientists Say Halting Deforestation ‘just As Urgent’ As Reducing Emissions

“In the central United States, these processes are estimated to have increased maximum daily temperatures by up to 1C on the hottest days of the year.”

Research shows that both North America and Europe experienced massive amounts of deforestation through the Industrial Revolution. For example, in the United States in the late 19th century, an average of 34 square kilometers of forest was cleared every day to make way for settlement and agriculture.

However, some regions that have recently experienced large-scale forest loss, such as Brazil, have seen a net decrease in hottest daytime temperatures.

Deforestation And Its Impact On The Environment

This depends on how tree removal affects land albedo, or the proportion of sunlight that is reflected back toward space, Lejeune says.

The Impact Of Deforestation On Carbon Storage

Because trees are generally dark in color, they do not reflect a lot of sunlight. However, once removed, the remaining bare surface tends to be lighter and reflect more of the sunlight. Deforestation can therefore have a localized net cooling effect in the short term.

In North America and Europe, deforested land is more likely to have been converted into urban space.

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