For far too long, threats to rainforest trees have gone unnoticed. Climate change has been killing rainforest trees for a longer time now than we realized.
Scientists have identified a disturbing pattern in Australia’s rainforests. This is due to the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Tree lifespans have halved in the last 35 years. Because these forests act as massive carbon sinks, the consequences for the rest of the world might be severe. This will lead to a feedback cycle that both causes and contributes to global warming.
Since the 1980s, a greater death rate has been reported. This shows that the earth’s natural systems have been responding to temperature and atmospheric changes. This has been the case for longer than humans may have anticipated.
David Bauman, an ecologist and lead author from the University of Oxford in the UK says “detecting such a large increase in tree mortality, let alone a trend constant across the diversity of species and places we evaluated was a shock.” “A persistent doubling of mortality risk means that carbon stored in trees is released twice as quickly into the atmosphere,” he added.
Climate Change: Rainforest Trees Now Accumulate Carbon instead of Removing it from the Atmosphere
Over 70,000 data points from existing datasets were used in the study which encompassed 24 different forest plots. The team was able to track tree deaths through time using data dating back to 1971.
According to the researchers, warmer air dries out trees faster. Hence, global warming-induced atmospheric water stress is to blame for the surge in tropical tree deaths.
The study’s authors compared the stress that rainforests are under to what is occurring on the Great Barrier Reef. This is another highly managed environment that is feeling the heat from rising temperatures.
“The likely driving mechanism we detect, rising atmospheric drying power due to global warming, indicates comparable rises in tree mortality rates may be happening throughout the world’s tropical forests,” says Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford.
“If that’s the case, tropical forests might soon become carbon sinks. This will make the task of keeping global warming far below 2 °C both more important and harder.”
Other studies show that the Amazon rainforests are seeing a similar increase in tree deaths. This decreases the amount of carbon that the region can absorb and store. The fear is that, rather than removing carbon from the atmosphere, these trees may start to accumulate it.
The latest work is notable because it makes use of a large pool of data gathered over a lengthy period of time. This allows scientists to identify long-term patterns despite the noise of such active and lively ecosystems.
Fossil fuel sites and Climate change
A new study has also warned that nearly half of fossil fuel sites need to be shut down. This is to avoid a climate disaster. According to a recent study, over half of all existing fossil fuel production facilities must be shut down. That is, if global warming is to stay below the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, the internationally agreed-upon aim for avoiding climate disaster.
According to the findings, just delaying the installation of new fossil fuel infrastructure is insufficient. In a press release, Greg Muttitt of the International Institute for Sustainable Development said:
“Our findings demonstrate that halting new extraction projects is a crucial step. However, it is still not enough to keep within our fast depleting carbon budget.” “Some fossil fuel licenses and production will need to be canceled and phased down sooner rather than later.” “Governments must begin to address how to do this in a fair and equitable manner. This will necessitate overcoming fossil fuel interests’ hostility,” Muttitt added.
The research is based on a commercial model of the 25,000 oil and gas fields around the world. It emphasizes that in order to avoid a global catastrophe, 40 percent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves at currently operational development sites must be shut down.
The study, however, fails to specify which existing development sites should be shut down. Instead, it claims that “it demands considerations of justice and the appropriate procedures to manage a just transition away from fossil fuel jobs and income within and between countries.”
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Even though long-term research projects are difficult to bring together, more studies of similar length are urgently needed to better understand the stress that the natural world is under.