Contact

Dr. Christian Reick

Global Vegetation Modelling Group Leader
Phone:+49 40 41173-117

Climate Research . Ecology

Climate protection through forestation?

Forest does not always equal forest. The reforestation of logged forest areas in the tropics and temperate zones has differing effects on the climate. Zoom Image
Forest does not always equal forest. The reforestation of logged forest areas in the tropics and temperate zones has differing effects on the climate. [less]

We conclude that humans caused changes in the regional energy balance already in pre-industrial times and increased the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. They disrupted the carbon cycle and reduced the forest carbon sink through deforestation. All this created a legacy of the past by the time humans entered the industrial era, so the land use of the past continues to affect current and future climate conditions.

While the influence of land use on the climate was only an unintentional side-effect up to now, it is planned to make targeted use of this effect in the future to counteract climate change. As a result, various demands are made for the reforestation of agricultural areas to withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigate current climate change. However, reforestation does not always have the effect of mitigating climate change – it can also accelerate global warming. Studies show that, in mid- and high latitudes, the reduction in albedo due to reforestation causes so much extra solar radiation to be absorbed that the cooling effect from the uptake of carbon dioxide has no impact. In the tropics, in contrast, the high level of evaporation in the forests plays a greater role and, combined with the uptake of carbon dioxide, has a net cooling effect. Preventing deforestation of the tropical rain forest, which is being deforested to gain agricultural land, could thus be more effective than the reforestation in moderate zones. Therefore, also in the future, the development of the climate will depend on agricultural decisions.

Glossary

Albedo
Is a measure of how strongly continents, oceans and clouds reflect sunlight. Lighter areas have a higher albedo than darker ones.

Carbon sink
The land masses and oceans can remove carbon from the atmosphere and bind it for long periods. On land, this process involves primarily vegetation, which absorbs carbon dioxide and forms organic compounds from it. However, carbon dioxide is also bound during geological processes, such as the formation of limestone.

 
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