A lingering ‘legacy’: Deforestation warms climate more than expected
Scientists know that the carbon released by large-scale deforestation in the tropics inevitably helps boost global temperatures. Now, new research indicates that this conversion of land, often to farms and ranches to produce food for people, has a bigger impact on the climate than anticipated.
“Normally people only think about what’s happening right now when they think about the carbon budget,” said Natalie Mahowald, a climatologist at Cornell University and lead author of the study, in a statement. “But if you think about what’s going to happen over the lifetime of that land, long into the future, you should multiply that land conversion by two to understand the net effect of it.”
Only about 20 percent of the carbon dioxide that’s been added to the atmosphere comes from clearing forests. But this “land use and land cover change” is responsible for 40 percent of the warming of the planet. In part, that’s because carbon isn’t the only climate-warming culprit that these spots continue to emit. The research, published online in August by the journal Environmental Research Letters, demonstrates the lingering impact of the accompanying release of methane and nitrous oxide from deforested land.