The Unseen Effects of Deforestation: Biophysical Effects on Climate

Don’t only look at carbon!

We find that tropical deforestation leads to strong net global warming as a result of both CO2 and biophysical effects. From the tropics to a point between 30◦N and 40◦N, biophysical cooling by standing forests is both local and global, adding to the global cooling effect of CO2 sequestered by forests. In the mid- latitudes up to 50◦N, deforestation leads to modest net global warming as warming from released forest carbon outweighs a small opposing biophysical cooling. Beyond 50◦N large scale deforestation leads to a net global cooling due to the dominance of biophysical processes (particularly increased albedo) over warming from CO2 released. Locally at all latitudes, forest biophysical impacts far outweigh CO2 effects, promoting local climate stability by reducing extreme temperatures in all seasons and times of day. The importance of forests for both global climate change mitigation and local adaptation by human and non-human species is not adequately captured by current carbon-centric metrics, particularly in the context of future climate warming.

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