Satellites find “hidden forests” helping fight against global warming
Vast tracts of land previously considered barren are actually covered by forests “hiding in plain sight”, scientists said on Friday, a discovery that could help the fight against climate change and desertification.
An international team of researchers led by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) used new technology to analyse high-resolution images from Google Earth and map forest coverage in drylands worldwide.
They found that trees like baobab and acacia shade 467 million more hectares of land than previously thought – an area roughly equal to half the size of the United States – increasing estimates of global forest cover by at least nine percent.
The discovery allows for more accurate assessments of how much greenhouse gases are absorbed from the atmosphere by the world’s vegetation, FAO experts said.
“Drylands absorb more carbon than we thought and they can actually help mitigate climate change,” Eva Muller, director of FAO’s forestry policy and resources division told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The analysis, published in journal Science, would also help forestry experts better identify areas suitable for restoring trees and vegetation in a bid to slow down desertification, added Jean-Francois Bastin, one of the study’s authors.
In Africa only, some 60 million people could be forced to leave their homes within five years and two thirds of arable land could be lost by 2025 as land progressively turns into desert, according to the United Nations.
The economics are clear. The benefits of trees far outweigh the cost of planting and maintaining them. Restoring 350 million hectares to contain global warming requires between $79 and $130 Bn (or an average $7 Bn per annum over the next 15 years.
In 2014, global GDP amounted to about 77.3 trillion U.S. dollars, this total investment to contain global warming represents merely 0,001% of 1 years’ global GDP or 0,08% of 1 years’ global military spending.
If creative mechanisms where private contributions are matched by public grants can be developed, like in the WeForest Zambia project where a grant from Finland (CSEF) is covering 60% of the project costs, corporates will enjoy a huge positive impact with a minimal investment. Ask us about this opportunity to contribute in Zambia.
 Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at current prices from 2010-2020 (in billion U.S. dollars): Statista. (2015),
Future climate change will affect plants and soil differently
A new study has found that soil carbon loss is more sensitive to climate change compared to carbon taken up by plants. In drier regions, soil carbon loss decreased but in wetter regions soil carbon loss increased.
March 7, 2017
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
A new study has found that soil carbon loss is more sensitive to climate change compared to carbon taken up by plants. In drier regions, soil carbon loss decreased but in wetter regions soil carbon loss increased. This could result in a positive feedback to the atmosphere leading to an additional increase of atmospheric CO2 levels.
Warmer, wetter climate would impair California grasslands
17-year experiment finds present climate near optimal for plant growth
September 6, 2016
Scientists said data from one of the world’s longest-running climate-change experiments show that California grasslands will become less productive if the temperature or precipitation increases substantially above average conditions from the past 40 years.
Results from one of the longest-running and most extensive experiments to examine how climate change will affect agricultural productivity show that California grasslands will become less productive if the temperature or precipitation increases substantially above average conditions from the past 40 years.
Harvests in the United States are liable to shrink by between a fifth and a half of their present size because of rising temperatures, an international scientific team has found.
They say wheat, maize (known also as corn) and soya are all likely to suffer substantial damage by the end of the century. And while increased irrigation could help to protect them against the growing heat, that will be an option only in regions with enough water.
Their report, published in the journal Nature Communications, says the effects of a warming atmosphere will extend far beyond the US. But as it is one of the largest crop exporters, world market crop prices may increase, causing problems for poor countries.
The lead author of the study is Bernhard Schauberger, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. He says: “We know from observations that high temperatures can harm crops, but now we have a much better understanding of the processes.”
Numerous fires create a smoky pall over the skies of western Africa. The image above was acquired on Dec. 10, 2015.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP
NASA study finds a connection between wildfires, drought
January 10, 2017
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
For centuries drought has come and gone across northern sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years, water shortages have been most severe in the Sahel — a band of semi-arid land situated just south of the Sahara Desert and stretching coast-to-coast across the continent, from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Sudan and Eritrea in the east.
Various factors influence these African droughts, both natural and human-caused. A periodic temperature shift in the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, plays a role, as does overgrazing, which reduces vegetative cover, and therefore the ability of the soil to retain moisture. By replacing vegetative cover’s moist soil, which contributes water vapor to the atmosphere to help generate rainfall, with bare, shiny desert soil that merely reflects sunlight directly back into space, the capacity for rainfall is diminished.
Another human-caused culprit is biomass burning, as herders burn land to stimulate grass growth, and farmers burn the landscape to convert terrain into farming land and to get rid of unwanted biomass after the harvest season. As with overgrazing, fires dry out the soil and stymie the convection that brings rainfall. Small particles called aerosols that are released into the air by smoke may also reduce the likelihood of rainfall. This can happen because water vapor in the atmosphere condenses on certain types and sizes of aerosols called cloud condensation nuclei to form clouds; when enough water vapor accumulates, rain droplets are formed. But have too many aerosols and the water vapor is spread out more diffusely to the point where rain droplets don’t materialize.
Tree-bark thickness indicates fire-resistance in a hotter future
January 11, 2017
A new study has found that trees worldwide develop thicker bark when they live in fire-prone areas. The findings suggest that bark thickness could help predict which forests and savannas will survive a warmer climate in which wildfires are expected to increase in frequency.
Trees in regions where fire is common, such as savannas and the forests of western North America, tend to have thicker bark, while trees in tropical rainforests have thinner bark, researchers at Princeton University and collaborating institutions reported Jan. 9 in the journal Ecology Letters. Bark protects the inside of the trunk from overheating and is one of a handful of adaptations that trees use to survive fire.
“We found large-scale evidence that bark thickness is a fire-tolerance trait, and we showed this is the case not just in a particular biome such as a savanna, but across different types of forests, across regions and across continents,” said first author Adam Pellegrini, a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University who led the study while a graduate student in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.