The tropics now emit more carbon than they capture

via Climate Central

A revolutionary new approach to measuring changes in forest carbon density has helped WHRC scientists determine that the tropics now emit more carbon than they capture, countering their role as a net carbon “sink.”

The shift from carbon sink to carbon “source” was caused by widespread deforestation, degradation and disturbance, according to a new study by a team of WHRC and Boston University scientists. The landmark paper was published online in the journal Science on September 28.

The findings add new urgency to the critical need for aggressive national and global-scale efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, the study suggests there is a critical window of opportunity to reverse the trend in emissions by halting deforestation and degradation, and actively restoring forests where they have been lost.

“These findings provide the world with a wakeup call on forests,” said WHRC scientist Alessandro Baccini, the report’s lead author. “If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon. Forests are the only carbon capture and storage ‘technology’ we have in our grasp that is safe, proven, inexpensive, immediately available at scale, and capable of providing beneficial ripple effects—from regulating rainfall patterns to providing livelihoods to indigenous communities.”

Using 12 years (2003-2014) of satellite imagery, laser remote sensing technology and field measurements, Baccini and his team were able to capture losses in forest carbon from wholesale deforestation as well as from more difficult-to-measure fine-scale degradation and disturbance, which has previously proven a challenge to the scientific community over large areas.

“It can be a challenge to map the forests that have been completely lost,” said WHRC scientist Wayne Walker, one of the report’s authors. “However, it’s even more difficult to measure small and more subtle losses of forest. In many cases throughout the tropics you have selective logging, or smallholder farmers removing individual trees for fuel wood. These losses can be relatively small in any one place, but added up across large areas they become considerable.”

Using this new capability, the researchers discovered that tropics represent a net source of carbon to the atmosphere — about 425 teragrams of carbon annually – which is more than the annual emissions from all cars and trucks in the United States.

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Global Forest Watch: Dynamic New Platform to Protect Forests Worldwide

via WRI

For the first time, Global Forest Watch unites the latest satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), Google, and a group of more than 40 partners launched Global Forest Watch (GFW), a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests. For the first time, Global Forest Watch unites the latest satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.

“Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO, WRI. “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

According to data from the University of Maryland and Google, the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers (230 million hectares) of tree cover from 2000 to 2012—equivalent to 50 soccer fields of forest lost every minute of every day for 12 years. The countries with the highest tree cover loss are: Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States, and Indonesia.

“We are honored to partner with WRI and power the Global Forest Watch platform with Google cloud technology, massive data and turbo-powered science,” said Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager, Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine. “GFW is an ambitious vision, and yet it’s both timely and achievable given WRI’s knowledge of environmental science and policy, strong partnerships, and the high-performance Google cloud technology that we’re donating to this initiative.”

What’s new about Global Forest Watch:

  • High-resolution: Annual tree cover loss and gain data for the entire globe at a resolution of 30 meters, available for analysis and download.
  • Near-real time: Monthly tree cover loss data for the humid tropics at a resolution of 500 meters.
  • Speed: Cloud computing, provided by Google, multiplying the speed at which data can be analyzed.
  • The crowd: GFW unites high resolution information from satellites with the power of crowdsourcing.
  • Free and easy to use: GFW is free to all and no technical expertise is needed.
  • Alerts: When forest loss alerts are detected, a network of partners and citizens around the world can mobilize to take action.
  • Analytical Tools: Layers showing boundaries of protected areas worldwide; logging, mining, palm oil and other concessions; daily forest fire alerts from NASA; agricultural commodities; and intact forest landscapes and biodiversity hotspots.

Today, a group of leaders in government, business, and civil society launched Global Forest Watch at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“Partnerships like Global Forest Watch that bring together governments, businesses and civil society and technological innovation are the kinds of solutions we need to reduce forest loss, alleviate poverty and promote sustainable economic growth,” said Administrator Rajiv Shah, U.S. Agency for International Development.

Global Forest Watch will have far-reaching implications across industries. Financial institutions can better evaluate if the companies they invest in adequately assess forest-related risks. Buyers of major commodities such as palm oil, soy, timber, and beef can better monitor compliance with laws, sustainability commitments, and standards. And suppliers can credibly demonstrate that their products are “deforestation free” and legally produced.

“Deforestation poses a material risk to businesses that rely on forest-linked crops. Exposure to that risk has the potential to undermine the future of businesses,” said Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. “That is why Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan has set targets to source 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably. As we strive to increase the visibility of where the ingredients for our products come from, the launch of Global Forest Watch – a fantastic, innovative tool – will provide the information we urgently need to make the right decisions, fostering transparency, enforcing accountability, and facilitating partnerships.”

Read more . . .


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First high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain – Updating Annually


A University of Maryland-led, multi-organizational team has created the first high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain.

This free resource greatly improves the ability to understand human and naturally-induced forest changes and the local to global implications of these changes on environmental, economic and other natural and societal systems, members of the team say.

In a new study, the team of 15 university, Google and government researchers reports a global loss of 2.3 million square kilometers (888,000 square miles) of forest between 2000 and 2012 and a gain of 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) of new forest.

Their study, published online on November 14 in the journal Science, documents the new database, including a number of key findings on global forest change.  For example, the tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2,101 square kilometers (811 square miles) per year.  Brazil’s well-documented reduction in deforestation during the last decade was more than offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola and elsewhere.

“This is the first map of forest change that is globally consistent and locally relevant,” says University of Maryland Professor of Geographical Sciences Matthew Hansen, team leader and corresponding author on the Science paper.

“Losses or gains in forest cover shape many important aspects of an ecosystem, including climate regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity and water supplies, but until now there has not been a way to get detailed, accurate, satellite-based and readily available data on forest cover change from local to global scales,” Hansen says.

To build this first of its kind forest mapping resource, Hansen, UMD Research Associate Professor Peter Potapov and five other UMD geographical science researchers drew on the decades-long UMD experience in the use of satellite data to measure changes in forest and other types of land cover. Landsat 7 data from 1999 through 2012 were obtained from a freely available archive at the United States Geological Survey’s center for Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS).  More than 650,000 Landsat images were processed to derive the final characterization of forest extent and change.

The analysis was made possible through collaboration with colleagues from Google Earth Engine, who implemented the models developed at UMD for characterizing the Landsat data sets.  Google Earth Engine is a massively parallel technology for high-performance processing of geospatial data and houses a copy of the entire Landsat image catalog.  What would have taken a single computer 15 years to perform was completed in a matter of days using Google Earth Engine computing.

Hansen and his coauthors say their mapping tool greatly improves upon existing knowledge of global forest cover by providing fine resolution (30 meter) maps that accurately and consistently quantify annual loss or gain of forest over more than a decade. This mapping database, which will be updated annually, quantifies all forest stand-replacement disturbances, whether due to logging, fire, disease or storms. And they say it is based on repeatable definitions and measurements while previous efforts at national and global assessments of forest cover have been largely dependent on countries’ self-reported estimates based on widely varying definitions and measures of forest loss and gain.

Read more . . .


Wildlife face ‘Armageddon’ as forests shrink


Species living in rainforest fragments could be far more likely to disappear than was previously thought, says an international team of scientists.

In a study spanning two decades, the researchers witnessed the near-complete extinction of native small mammals on forest islands created by a large hydroelectric reservoir in Thailand.

“It was like ecological Armageddon,” said Luke Gibson from the National University of Singapore, who led the study. “Nobody imagined we’d see such catastrophic local extinctions.”

The study, just published in the leading journal Science today, is considered important because forests around the world are being rapidly felled and chopped up into small island-like fragments. “It’s vital that we understand what happens to species in forest fragments,” said Antony Lynam of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The fate of much of the world’s biodiversity is going to depend on it.”

The study was motivated by a desire to understand how long species can live in forest fragments. If they persist for many decades, this gives conservationists a window of time to create wildlife corridors or restore surrounding forests to reduce the harmful effects of forest isolation.

However, the researchers saw native small mammals vanish with alarming speed, with just a handful remaining – on average, less than one individual per island – after 25 years. “There seemed to be two culprits,” said William Laurance of James Cook University in Australia. “Native mammals suffered the harmful effects of population isolation, and they also had to deal with a devastating invader – the Malayan field rat.”

In just a few years, the invading rat grew so abundant on the islands that it virtually displaced all native small mammals. The field rat normally favors villages and agricultural lands, but will also invade disturbed forests.

“This tells us that the double whammy of habitat fragmentation and invading species can be fatal for native wildlife,” said Lynam. “And that’s frightening because invaders are increasing in disturbed and fragmented habitats around the world.”

“The bottom line is that we must conserve large, intact habitats for nature,” said Gibson. “That’s the only way we can ensure biodiversity will survive.”

Read more . . .


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Got calcium? Mineral key to restoring acid rain-damaged forests


“This study has important implications that go well beyond the forests of the northeastern United States”

Calcium can do much more than strengthen bones. The mineral is a critical nutrient for healthy tree growth, and new research shows that adding it to the soil helps reverse the decades-long decline of forests ailing from the effects of acid rain.

The paper, published today (Thursday, Sept. 19), in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (EST) Letters, and led by John Battles, professor of forest ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, also presents strong evidence that acid rain impairs forest health.

The paper reports on 15 years of data from an ongoing field experiment in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire led by study co-author Charles Driscoll Jr., professor of environmental systems engineering at Syracuse University.

“It is generally accepted that acid rain harms trees, but the value of our study is that it proves the causal link between the chronic loss of soil calcium caused by decades of acid rain and its impact on tree growth,” said Battles. “The temporal and spatial scope of the study – 15 years and entire watersheds – is unique and makes the results convincing.”

The researchers reported that trees in the calcium-treated watershed produced 21 percent more wood and 11 percent more leaves than their counterparts in an adjacent control site. The iconic sugar maple – the source of maple syrup – was the tree species that responded most strongly to the restoration of calcium in the soil.

The research site, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, was targeted because of the declining growth rates and unexpected death of trees in the area. Previous measurements of the forest soil showed a 50 percent depletion of calcium.

Acid rain forms when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – gases produced from the burning of fossil fuels – react with water molecules in the air. The mountainous regions in the Northeast have thin soils that are already acidic, so they have limited ability to withstand the assaults of nutrient-dissolving acid rain. Moreover, watersheds along the eastern corridor of the United States had been exposed to more acid rain because of the greater number of coal-burning power plants in the region.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions, but decades of acid rain already had changed the soil chemistry of many sensitive regions, including the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Adirondacks of New York.

For the Hubbard Brook study, a helicopter spread 40 tons of dry calcium pellets over a 29-acre watershed over several days in October 1999. The calcium was designed to slowly work its way into the watershed over many years.

“This was restoration, not fertilization,” said Battles. “We were only replacing what was lost.”

Researchers monitored the forest over the next 15 years, comparing the treatment area with an adjacent watershed that had the same characteristics, but did not get the added calcium.

Read more . . .


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