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forests as vital organs of the planet

world map showing degrees of solar radiation. © Wikimedia Commons
Jan 2012

All climate models questionable

In an article titled 'Include trees in climate modelling, say scientists' The Guardian reports that 'current climate models and projections may be inaccurate because measurements are based on guidelines that do not include the effects of trees on the local climate.'

It refers to a book which agroforestry experts at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) published in December 2011: How Trees and People can co-adapt to Climate Change.

'Trees can influence many of the climate factors predicted by modelling, and their effects should be added to climate maps…'

'"Following the guidelines of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global weather stations collect climate data on open ground — away from trees", says Meine Van Noordwijk, an editor of the book.' The WMO standards intentionally 'avoid tree canopy effects on the measurements.' – Why?

'"Unfortunately … climate scientists have not made much effort to quantify [the effects of trees]. By not looking at that, we are missing a large opportunity to understand how we can adapt."'

For six years now, climate scientists have ignored the call from Russian scientists to allow for the massive impact of continental forests on climate (READ MORE). Hopefully the new pressure from agroforestry will have an effect…

source: Dyna Rochmyaningsih, Include trees in climate modelling, say scientists: Climate models should include the effects of trees on the local climate, say agroforestry experts, The Guardian Environment Network, 16 January 2012

string: The real importance of the Amazon rainforest

'Forest Hero' Shigeatsu Hatakeyama. © Ryo Murakami/UNU
Dec 2011

Forests 'activate' coastal seas

Already decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leech acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. And when plankton thrives, so does the rest of the food chain. [1]

This was put into good practice by Japanese fisherman Mr Shigeatsu Hatakeyama who inherited an oyster farm business from his parents. But the waters in Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi, Japan, had become unsuitable for oyster cultivation after an outbreak of red tide plankton. On a trip to France in 1984, Mr Hatakeyama saw healthy oysters in the Loire river estuary and noticed a vast deciduous broadleaf forest upriver. He made the connection and he realized the positive influence forests have on ocean ecology and biodiversity.

Back home, he held the first Mori wa Umi no Koibito (Forests are Lovers of the Sea) campaign in 1989: with other fishermen he planted broadleaf trees upstream along the Okawa River to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea. These afforestation activities became an annual event and have since gained momentum – so far, more than 50,000 trees have been planted. It has led to a region-wide proactive movement to preserve the environment, including water drainage regulation and promoting farming practices with less agricultural chemicals. [2] [3]

Mr Hatakeyama became known as 'Grandpa Oyster' after spending more than twenty years developing the forest that keeps the Okawa River clean and his thriving oysters healthy.
In 2009, he established another Forests are Lovers of the Sea programme which provides hands-on education for children, bringing them closer to the ocean and the forest.

He has now received a Forest Heroes Award from the UN International Year of Forests 2011 committee.

sources:
[1] Jim Robbins, Why Trees Matter, NY Times, April 11, 2012
[2] Asia & Japan Watch
[3] UN Forest Heroes Award

Iguazu Falls, Brazil. © gary yim/shutterstock.com
March 2010

The real importance of the Amazon rainforest

Peter Bunyard, the science editor of The Ecologist and of Science in Society, has published an article called 'The Real Importance of the Amazon Rain Forest'. He hopes to draw attention to the work of two scientists from the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute who show to what unexpected extent the rainforests are responsible not only for the moist, fertile climate of South America and Central Africa, but the equilibrium of world climate.

The research by A.M. Makarieva and V.G. Gorshkov, the Russian scientists, challenges the established views of climatologists and renders all current computer simulations regarding 'global warming' incomplete and inaccurate. Hence they have been adamantly ignored by the scientific community.

Bunyard states that 'the implications of Makarieva and Gorshkov's thesis are enormous; essentially it means that South America cannot do without its rainforests' …and neither can we in the northern hemisphere.

READ MORE

source: Peter Bunyard, The Real Importance of the Amazon Rain Forest, ISIS Report, 15/03/2010
string: All climate models questionable!, Amazon deforestation fails to improve local life

clearfelling area in Brazil. © guentermanaus/fotolia.com
June 2009

Amazon deforestation fails to improve local life

A new study by the department of life sciences at Imperial College London (and published in Science this month) undercuts the persistent argument that deforestation in the Amazon leads to long-term development of the local economy and social conditions.

Doubtlessly this seems to be the case temporarily: logging creates jobs, the new roads can give better access to education and medicine, and newly available natural resources in a cleared forest area attract investment and infrastructure. But once the timber and other resources dry up, things change again! 'A lot of the agricultural land is only productive for a few years,' says Rob Ewers, a member of the study team. 'On top of that you tend to have much higher populations because a lot of people have been attracted to the area.' This higher population has to survive on ever-dwindling local resources, which pushes the standard of living right down again. After the loggers have gone, development quickly falls back even below national average levels.

Every year, around 1.8 million hectares of rainforest are destroyed in the Amazon — a rate of four football fields every minute. Deforestation causes 20% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The Amazonian rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and guards against climate change by absorbing CO2 and maintaining geochemical cycles.

'Slashing and burning rainforest to make way for cattle ranches or soya farms is simply not sustainable, because profits are short-lived and the big companies simply move elsewhere. Instead we need sustained international funding to protect this massive natural resource, to make trees worth more alive than dead.'

Fact is: Trees already are worth more alive than dead, always have been, but word hasn't got round yet.

source: Alok Jha, Amazon deforestation leads to development 'boom-and-bust, The Guardian, 11 June 2009

string: The real importance of the Amazon rainforest

veils of rain over forest landscape. © Dudarev Mikhail/fotolia.com
Oct 2008

Tree vapours cool planet

Forests store carbon and help in this way to prevent global warming. But they do more: scientists in the UK and Germany have now discovered that trees release a chemical that thickens clouds above them, which then reflect more sunlight and cool the Earth more sufficiently.

The scientists looked at chemicals called terpenes that are released from boreal forests across northern regions such as Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Siberia. But other trees also produce terpenes so the cooling effect should be found in other regions too, including the tropical rainforests.

The terpenes react in the air to form tiny particles called aerosols. The particles help turn water vapour in the atmosphere into clouds. The particles released by pine forests, for example, double the thickness of clouds some 1,000m above the forests, which causes them to reflect an extra 5% sunlight back into space. 'It might not sound a lot, but that is quite a strong cooling effect. … It gives us another reason to preserve forests,' says Dominick Spracklen of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University.

The research suggests that the destruction of old-growth forests could accelerate global warming more than was thought, and that protecting existing trees could be one of the best ways to tackle the problem.

source: David Adam, Chemical released by trees can help cool planet, scientists find, The Guardian, 31 October 2008

World Tree on the backside of the French 1-Euro coin
Oct 2008

Global deforestation costs more than the 'financial crisis'

The world's shrinking forests cost us up to US$5 trillion a year – far more than the current banking crisis. Environmentalists hope the sobering calculation, made by a European Union commissioned team, will focus political will on funding conservation.

Read more

woman, taking a deep breath beneath trees. © Fotowerk/fotolia.com
May 2008

Trees improve human health

Trees release various beneficial chemicals. Some of these form aerosols which assist cloud forming and thickening and thereby regulate the climate (compare tree news: Tree vapours cool planet). Others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral and thereby have beneficient effects on human health.

Forests also act as water filters in nature, capable of cleaning up various forms of toxic waste. Trees achieve this by cooperating with a dense community of microbes around their roots that biochemically clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process called phytoremediation. [1] (Microorganisms in the soil of pot plants also clean the air in rooms, see article at Tree World.)

Trees also counteract air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that children living on tree-lined streets are less likely to develop asthma. This study was conducted in New York City, where the leading cause of hospital admission for children under the age of 15 is asthma. Since more trees in urban neighbourhoods seem to correlate with fewer cases of asthma, and New York City counted about 500,000 trees outside of parks and private land in 2008, the Million Trees NYC tree-planting initiative developed, under the umbrella of the New York Restoration Project founded by actress Bette Midler. [2]

In Japan, on the other hand, the positive effects of trees on human health have been known for a very long time. Researchers have long studied a Japanese custom called 'forest bathing' (Shinrin-yoku) – which does not literally mean bathing but simply spending time in the woods. Breathing in volatile substances called phytoncides (essential oils), which are anti-microbial organic compounds derived from trees, invigorates the human organism. Forest time reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body, boosts the immune system and hence helps to ward off viruses, bacteria and even tumours. Various studies confirming this have been conducted by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health in Tokyo. [1] [3]

In Britain in 2001, the Department of Health sent out thousands of leaflets to all health authorities and hospitals, pointing out the health benefits of trees. The leaflet was called Sustainable Urban Forestry – Benefiting Public Health, and informed about the advantages for bedridden patients if they can see trees:

'They need less pain-relieving medication, they are better patients and they need to stay in hospital for a shorter period of time, so surrounding hospitals with trees can improve both healthcare and economic efficiency.'

Getting patients involved in tree-planting and care is another recommendation. 'Trees will also make staff feel less stressed.' [4]

Sources:
[1] Jim Robbins, Why Trees Matter, NY Times, April 11, 2012
[2] Jane Akre, Trees May Cut Asthma – NYC Study Finds, The Legal Examiner National NewsDesk, May 01, 2008
[3] Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol
[4] quoted in Tree News, issue 2, autumn/winter 2001. The leaflet was prepared by the National Urban Forestry Unit of the UK.