Think of carbon emissions, and you probably think of fossil fuels – but you might also think of deforestation. Tropical forests are a significant store (or sink) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and their loss is regarded as a main contributor to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Estimating the extent of this loss has, however, been problematic. Now, new research, published today in Science, provides a more accurate estimate of the extent of deforestation – and some of the results are surprising.
The Carbon Cycle: Why Forests Are Important
Any ecologist will tell you that forests are important in terms of controlling climate change. Here’s why: forests form a natural ‘sink’ for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Plants grow through the process of photosynthesis, in which they use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into energy for growth. Not only does this process release oxygen into the atmosphere – sustaining life – but it also removes atmospheric CO2.
We can’t say for certain how much carbon is stored in the earth’s plants, but estimates published by the Open University suggest that it’s around two thirds of that in the atmosphere – and if other organic matter (such as soil and dead leaves) is included, the proportion is much, much higher.
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