Some Forests Better Than Others When It Comes To Climate Change

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Feb, 12, 2016, 11:12 PM
Tags : science
Conifer Forests
(Photo : Getty Images/Oli Scarff) Forests are generally thought to offset some of the effects of climate change, by storing carbon that would end up in the atmosphere.

Forests are generally thought to offset some of the effects of climate change, by storing carbon that would end up in the atmosphere. New research shows that over 250 years of forest management in Europe may have had a contrary effect on carbon storage, writes Nature World News.

"The current assumption is that all forest management and all forests contribute to climate mitigation," Dr. Kim Naudts, a postdoctoral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, said in a statement. "We cannot say that is true, at least for Europe."

Nearly 75,000 square miles of forest cover was removed from Europe between 1750 and 1850. Different trees were replanted in their place, but these trees have not proven to be as effective at negating the effects of climate change.

Researchers modeled the history of land use in Europe from present day dating back to 1750. They found that removing native broadleaf tree species and replacing them with conifer trees like Scots pine and Norway spruce was a major contributor to the negative effect on climate impact.

Compared to native broadleaf trees, which tend to lose all their leaves in the fall and winter months and have flat leaves, conifer trees have darker leaves that absorb more heat. Conifers are generally the preferred species for reforestation projects, as the wood they produce is more commercially valuable.

While reintroducing 10 percent of forest cover to European land may seem positive - redefining the composition of tree species and planting the commercially valuable conifers has led to an increase in carbon debt - since 1750, 3.1 billion metric tons of carbon has been released into the atmosphere, researchers say.

"Even well-managed forests today store less carbon than their natural counterparts in 1750," Dr. Naudts told BBC. "Due to the shift to conifer species, there was a warming over Europe of almost 0.12 degrees and that is caused because the conifers are darker and absorb more solar radiation."

To put the figures into context, the researchers have calculated that temperature increases equates to six percent of the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Incorrect management of forests can therefore vastly decrease the amount of carbon being stored, compared to naturally maintained forests. The researchers suggest that conservationists need to push for more tree diversity when it comes to reforestation projects.

The study was recently published in the journal Science.

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