Are Forests Good or Bad for the Environment?

Written by Nile Drochak, ESLLC 2017-2018

A common notion of forests are their ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, therefore, slowing down the effects of climate change. However, there have been “satellite imagery of tropical Asia, Africa and the Americas suggests that tropical forests contribute more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they remove”. The trees which decompose due to deforestation and conversion of forests to urban spaces, contribute to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

A more significant source of carbon dioxide from forests is the “decline in the number and diversity of trees in remaining forests”, which is responsible for two thirds of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Studies shows that tropical forests seem to be a net source, rather than a net sink, of carbon dioxide. Since forests in the tropics have a higher density of “woody and live vegetation” than forests in the United States, scientists find that these forests emit more carbon dioxide, than they absorb from their growth.

Degradation is another indicator of how much carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere from forests. Although the amount of deforestation could be seen from a satellite, degradation could be harder to recognize, because degradation measures the amount of carbon biomass. Alessandro Baccini is a forest ecologist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass, who studies forest degradation. He says that “Carbon density is a weight”, and “The problem is that there is no satellite in space that can give an estimate of weight.” To understand forest degradation, Baccini and his team calibrated “satellite images of the tropics using field observations and NASA Light Detection and Ranging Data” then, “…they created an algorithm that compares 500-meter-square parcels…to calculate gains and losses in carbon density”. Scientists have used this process to better understand the source of climate change, and have used its application in other areas of study as well.

Baccini and his team created a revolutionary process for understanding forest degradation, and scientists are better able to understand the source of increased carbon dioxide. I believe that science and technology has the dual purpose of giving people the ability to recognize problems in our climate, and to solve those problems as well. The collaboration of the public and government leaders are necessary to make positive changes to our environment.



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