London: A landmark study has found, the world’s forests are losing their ability to absorb carbon due to increasingly ‘unstable’ conditions caused by humans. Dramatic changes to forests, and other habitats that store carbon in plants and soils, are becoming more likely in some regions across Earth, with less carbon consistently absorbed by the ‘land carbon sink’ provided by trees, soil and plants, according to scientists writing in Nature.
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The short-term impacts of rising temperatures, deforestation and farming on many vulnerable landscapes mean carbon stores on land are less likely to recover in the longer term, the scientists say. This reduces the overall storage capacity of the land to absorb carbon and undermines global efforts to curb or lower levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Dr Patrick McGuire, a climate scientist working jointly in the Department of Meteorology and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science branch, both at the University of Reading, UK, was a co-author of the new study, which was led by colleagues at CREAF, Barcelona, and Antwerp University.
Dr McGuire said,
We found that large regions of the world are vulnerable to sudden and dramatic changes to their landscape because the ability of their ecosystems to absorb carbon starts to destabilise.
“For example, forest fires in California are more likely because of extremely dry and hot conditions caused by a hotter atmosphere. More fires mean the forest turns to scrubland, sometimes permanently. This reduces the land’s overall ability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere as it did before. This creates a vicious cycle as areas such as these become more vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the future.
Unstable Carbon Storage
Researchers found that from 1981-2018, ecosystems worldwide moved through different phases, ranging from high productivity, when plants were able to take in more carbon, to low productivity, when plants were less able to absorb carbon.
The scale of these fluctuations creates a greater risk of destabilisation, increasing the risk of abrupt landscape changes as ecosystems cannot acclimate to climate change, deforestation, and changes to biodiversity, among other factors.
The study, published on Wednesday (February 22) in Nature, found the regions most at risk typically have less forest cover and more cropland, are warmer and have experienced greater rises in temperature, which could be related to an increase in extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and cold snaps. The areas identified as most at risk include the Mediterranean Basin, Southeast Asia and the west coasts of North and Central America.
The researchers said these vulnerable areas had developed a ‘memory’ — described as a ‘temporal autocorrelation’ — meaning that years, where carbon uptake is lower, are more likely to be followed by years where carbon uptake diminishes further. Researchers say that as less carbon is absorbed in areas where forestland dominates, the likelihood of scrubland becoming the permanent landscape increases and forests could be lost forever.
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While several regions are at risk of abrupt changes in their landscapes, there are parts of the world where carbon absorption levels are consistent and ecosystem collapse is less likely as a result of carbon fluctuations. This includes the tropical forests of the Amazon, and parts of central and northern Europe, where carbon absorption capacity has increased. However, the researchers warn that regions such as the Amazon face other climate threats, such as future shifts in regular patterns of rainfall.
The scientists say these global variations could make it harder to predict the global impact of schemes to absorb carbon, such as planting trees, in helping the world reach carbon net zero.
Dr McGuire said,
Ecosystems on land currently absorb almost one-third of the carbon emissions created by humans. If they start to absorb less carbon, the earth’s natural ability to curb climate change diminishes. This means we may need to cut human-made carbon emissions even faster than we had previously thought.
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(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.