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Deforestation affects change with latitude

Silver LakeDeforestation affects the whole world but the impact of deforestation changes with latitude. This finding, according to experts, will open new thinking in climate monitoring strategies.

This research has been done by a team of researchers from 20 different institutions around the world and published online in the November 16 issue of the journal Nature.

Professor Kyaw Tha Paw U, University of California (UC) Davis atmospheric science and study co-author, said,

It depends where the deforestation is. It could have some cooling effects at the regional scale, at higher latitudes, but there’s no indication deforestation is cooling lower latitudes, and in fact may actually cause warming.

According to the study, the surface station observations in the grassy fields are not able to represent accurately, the state of climate for 30% of the terrestrial surface, covered with forests.

Researchers have found that deforestation in the boreal region, north of 45 degrees latitude, leads to net cooling effect. Deforestation increases the sunlight’s reflection leading to cooler areas and the same thing happens in the open, nonforested, high latitude areas while the forested areas in the neighborhoods absorbed sun’s heat. At night, without the sun’s light, open land continue to cool faster than forests.

Xuhui Lee, the study’s principal investigator and professor of meteorology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said,

People are debating whether afforestation is a good idea in high latitudes. If you plant trees you sequester carbon, which is a benefit to the climate system. At the same time, if you plant trees you warm the landscape because trees are darker compared to other vegetation types. So they absorb solar radiation.

Lee further said, “The cooling effect is linear with latitude, so the farther north you go, the cooler you get with deforestation.”


Xuhui Lee, Michael L. Goulden, David Y. Hollinger, Alan Barr, T. Andrew Black, Gil Bohrer, Rosvel Bracho, Bert Drake, Allen Goldstein, Lianhong Gu, Gabriel Katul, Thomas Kolb, Beverly E. Law, Hank Margolis, Tilden Meyers, Russell Monson, William Munger, Ram Oren, Kyaw Tha Paw U, Andrew D. Richardson,  Hans Peter Schmid, Ralf Staebler, Steven Wofsy & Lei Zhao, (2011). Observed increase in local cooling effect of deforestation at higher latitudes. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature10588

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