Conifers Warm Up the Atmosphere
by aupara123 on February 8, 2016 - 8:58pm
Global warming is becoming a large issue in today’s world. All over the planet, media cover the news on the latest environmental catastrophe and on high temperatures setting new records. Many of these phenomena can be related to a common factor; there are more and more greenhouse gases being released in the atmosphere. Many countries try to reduce their emissions, and a way to accomplish this is with the mass planting of trees, conifers particularly, on land that used to be occupied by broadleaved trees. I live in Quebec (Canada) and it is quite frequent. Indeed, we can witness in many different regions land with rows and rows of conifers, some older than others, that have been planted by humans and that have replaced the broadleaved trees that used to grow there.
A new study conducted by European researchers shows that what humanity has always thought to be the right thing to do actually turns out to be harmful. Indeed, they claim that replacing forests of broadleaved trees such as birch and oak by conifers has in fact intensified the global warming effect. According to the researchers, this has been going on since 1750. As it is written in the BBC News article ‘‘‘Wrong type of trees’ in Europe’’ (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35496350), written by Matt McGrath, an environment correspondent, and published on January 5th, 2016, “conifers ... are generally darker and absorb more heat than species such as oak and birch”.
Between 1750 and 1850, 190 000 sq km of forest area had been cut off in Europe. From 1850 to present day, it grew back by 386 000 sq km. This represents approximately 10% more land than before the industrial real revolution, although the type of trees planted back are not the same as before; they are not broadleaved anymore. Nowadays, close to 85% of Europe’s trees are controlled by humanity. The quick re-forestation has been thought to be a good thing for a long time as trees absorb extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ability to absorb CO2 is what led humans to plant more conifers, yet these trees cannot absorb nearly as much carbon as the leafy trees do and in turn, today’s forests absorb a lot less carbon dioxide than before.
Not only are the newly planted trees absorbing less carbon, but cutting the trees also releases great amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This carbon dioxide comes from dead wood, soil and organic compounds in decomposition in the forest. This is said to have a large impact on the global temperature, as more heat is stored in the atmosphere.
Researchers of Science in Action told the BBC that Europe’s temperature has went up, “of almost 0.12 degrees”, due to the mass planting of conifers. This represents about 6% of the total global warming blamed on fossil fuels. They believe that this phenomenon is not only happening in Europe, but that it is also happening in other areas that have seen the same kind of reforestation.
Governments today are seeing tree planting as a good solution to reduce their overall emissions, China being one of them with the plan to build a “great green wall” that will represent over 400 million hectares of new trees.
The world population should be careful about the type of trees that it will plant in the future. As researchers claim, “results indicate that in large parts of Europe, a tree planting programme would offset the emissions but it would not cool the planet, especially not if the afforestation is done with conifers”. They have suggested a potential solution, which is to replace harvested conifers with trees such as oak and birch.