Research Article: Impacts of forestation and deforestation on local temperature across the globe

Date Published: March 20, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jayme A. Prevedello, Gisele R. Winck, Marcelo M. Weber, Elizabeth Nichols, Barry Sinervo, Yangyang Xu.


Changing forest cover is a key driver of local climate change worldwide, as it affects both albedo and evapotranspiration (ET). Deforestation and forestation are predicted to have opposing influences on surface albedo and ET rates, and thus impact local surface temperatures differently. Relationships between forest change, albedo, ET, and local temperatures may further vary regionally, as the strengths of warming by albedo effects and cooling by ET effects vary with latitude. Despite these important relationships, the magnitude of forest cover effects on local surface temperature across the globe remains unclear. Using recently-released global forest change data, we first show that forestation and deforestation have pervasive and opposite effects on LST, ET and albedo worldwide. Deforestation from 2000 to 2010 caused consistent warming of 0.38 ± 0.02 (mean ± SE) and 0.16 ± 0.01°C in tropical and temperate regions respectively, while forestation caused cooling in those regions of -0.18 ± 0.02 and -0.19 ± 0.02°C. Tropical forests were particularly sensitive to the climate effects of forest change, with forest cover losses of ~50% associated with increased LST of 1.08 ± 0.25°C, whereas similar forest cover gains decreased LST by -1.11 ± 0.26°C. Secondly, based on a new structural equation model, we show that these changes on LST were largely mediated by changes in albedo and ET. Finally, based on this model, we show that predicted forest changes in Brazil associated with a business-as-usual land use scenario through 2050 may increase LST up to 1.45°C. Our results contribute to a better understanding of the mechanistic inter-relationships between forest change and changes in albedo, ET and LST, and provide additional evidence that forestation has the potential to reverse deforestation impacts on local climate, especially in tropical and temperate regions.

Partial Text

Forests originally covered 40% of Earth’s terrestrial surface [1], but extensive deforestation over the past 300 years has reduced this area substantially (e.g. [2]). On the other hand, forestation (i.e., forest cover increase) is also common globally, and reflects both the passive regeneration of vegetation (e.g., in abandoned agriculture land) and the active restoration and planting of new forests [3]. For example, planted forests increased in extent from 16.7 million km2 in 1990 to 27.8 million km2 in 2015 [4]. From 2000 to 2012, forest change—either deforestation or forestation—occurred across 3.1 million km2 globally [5]. Forest cover change has widespread social, economic, and ecological consequences, as forests affect the provisioning of ecosystem services, the integrity of biological communities, as well as climate and air quality [6–9]. Until recently however, the limited availability of high-resolution forest data has hampered quantification of forest change impacts at a global scale [5,10–13].

To quantify impacts of past forest change on local climate, we adopted a six-step methodological approach, as detailed in the following sections. These steps included (i) compilation of global forest and climate datasets for two time periods (2000/2010 and 2001/2011); (ii) preliminary treatment of all datasets, including quality control, standardization of spatial resolution and calculation of annual averages; (iii) calculation of forest change from 2000 to 2010 across the globe; (iv) calculation of the change in each climatic variable (LST, albedo, and ET) across the same 2000 to 2010 period; (v) application of a “window searching” strategy to compare forest and climate change between pairs of close cells (< 25 km apart); and (vi) application of statistical analyses to quantify causal relationships among ΔF, Δalbedo, ΔET, and ΔLST. To show how our approach can be further applied, we then model future changes in local climate in Brazil, by following four main steps: (i) application of the window searching algorithm to past (2000–2010) forest change data for Brazil only; (ii) fitting of a general structural equation model (i.e., path model) to these data and extraction of model coefficients; (iii) compilation of future (2010–2050) forest change data for Brazil; and (iv) calculation of predicted changes in LST across Brazil. We performed all data processing and analysis in R 3.3.2 [24]. Forestation and deforestation were pervasive across large areas of the globe from 2000 to 2010 [5]. Here we show that these widespread processes had strong and opposite effects on local LST, albedo and ET worldwide, confirming and expanding the findings of recent studies [10–12]. In particular, we show that forestation (both passive and active) has the potential to reverse the effects of deforestation on LST, albedo and ET. This finding provides further evidence of the need to reduce deforestation and promote forest recovery—especially in tropical and temperate regions [5,12]. We found that the effects of forest change on LST are largely mediated by changes in albedo and ET. Finally, we show that current land use policies are very likely to impact future local climate, as exemplified by our case study in Brazil.   Source: