Trees are supposed to stop climate change but some types of trees cannot produce desired results
It has been widely believed that forests can help slow rising temperatures since trees can store carbon dioxide, which would otherwise end up in the atmosphere and can cause acceleration in global warming. But any type of trees may not be the answer to decrease global warming.
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A new research has found that conifers forests grown in Europe have actually stoked global warming. Conifers such as pine, fir or spruce have darker green color and absorb less carbon than trees like oak and birch. Thus, they are contributing to environmental warming rather than mitigating it.
Using historical data about trees planted in Europe since 1750, a team of French researchers created a computer modeling that showed what kind of impact these forests have had on climate change.
Through the reconstruction, researchers have made some key observations about the forests in Europe two and a half centuries ago. They observed a dramatic forest loss in early years which continued for nearly a century. Then, forest began to rebound but in doing so some certain types of trees were preferred over others. Eventually, these trees managed by humans outnumbered broad-leaf trees that had the potential to hold more carbon.
In Europe, trend of growing dark green conifers started in around 1750 to 1850 and now these trees cover more than 10% of the land. Overall, 190,000 square kilometers forested area was diminished in Europe between 1750 and 1850. Though later reforestation efforts made up all the losses but as a result conifer forests in Europe has expanded by 633,000 square kilometers, while broad-leaf trees decreased by 436,000 square kilometers.
“European forests have failed to realize a net (carbon dioxide) removal from the atmosphere, and this is due to the fact that humans extracted wood from unmanaged forests by bringing these forests under management,” said lead author Kim Naudts from University of Versailles.
“Even a well-managed forest today stores less carbon than its natural counterpart in 1750.”
Due to the shift to conifer species, the temperature in Europe has increased 0.12 degree Celsius and darker trees are mainly response for this increase.
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The study suggests that forest management is far more complex than what has been originally thought as changing tree types or deforestation can directly cause global warming. Therefore, future management initiatives should consider both the type of trees that are being planted and the ways in which they were managed if their goal is positive impact on climate change.