Friday, October 31, 2008
Tropical Forests -- Earth's Air Conditioner
The researchers, including Ken Caldeira of Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology and Govindasamy Bala at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, found that because tropical forests store large amounts of carbon and produce reflective clouds, they are especially good at cooling the planet. In contrast, forests in snowy areas can warm the Earth, because their dark canopy absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space by a bright white covering of snow.
The work simulates the effects of large-scale deforestation, and accounts for the positive and negative climate effects of tree cover at different latitudes. The result, which appears in this week's early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes a strong case for protecting and restoring tropical forests.
"Tropical forests are like Earth's air conditioner," Caldeira said. "When it comes to rehabilitating forests to fight global warming, carbon dioxide might be only half of the story; we also have to account for whether they help to reflect sunlight by producing clouds, or help to absorb it by shading snowy tundra."
The painting is by Nancy Merkle