Biophysical climate impacts of recent changes in global forest cover

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Science  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 600-604
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac8083

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It's not only the carbon in the trees

Forest loss affects climate not just because of the impacts it has on the carbon cycle, but also because of how it affects the fluxes of energy and water between the land and the atmosphere. Evaluating global impact is complicated because deforestation can produce different results in different climate zones, making it hard to determine large-scale trends rather than more local ones. Alkama and Cescatti conducted a global assessment of the biophysical effects of forest cover change. Forest loss amplifies diurnal temperature variations, increases mean and maximum air temperatures, and causes a significant amount of warming when compared to CO2 emission from land-use change.

Science, this issue p. 600


Changes in forest cover affect the local climate by modulating the land-atmosphere fluxes of energy and water. The magnitude of this biophysical effect is still debated in the scientific community and currently ignored in climate treaties. Here we present an observation-driven assessment of the climate impacts of recent forest losses and gains, based on Earth observations of global forest cover and land surface temperatures. Our results show that forest losses amplify the diurnal temperature variation and increase the mean and maximum air temperature, with the largest signal in arid zones, followed by temperate, tropical, and boreal zones. In the decade 2003–2012, variations of forest cover generated a mean biophysical warming on land corresponding to about 18% of the global biogeochemical signal due to CO2 emission from land-use change.

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