A recent study on the Brazilian Amazon reveals that deforestation has a more significant impact on regional temperatures than previously understood, emphasising the potential benefits of forest conservation for agricultural businesses.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research challenges the prevailing notion that clearing more land for agriculture is financially lucrative, particularly among farmers in Amazonian states.
The study sheds light on the consequences of continued deforestation in the agricultural hub of Mato Grosso. If deforestation maintains its recent rapid pace, the region, already grappling with drought and extreme heat affecting crops, could experience a temperature increase of just over half a degree Celsius by 2050.
The findings indicate that Amazon deforestation leads to warming at distances up to 60 miles (100 km) away, with the extent of temperature rise directly proportional to the extent of forest clearance, in addition to the broader impacts on global heating.
Dominick Spracklen from the University of Leeds explains that the average tree plays a crucial role in cooling, comparable to the effect of two to three air conditioners operating at full capacity continuously.
“We always thought this might be happening, but the extent is bigger than I would have thought,” he said. “More and more, we are demonstrating the big benefits the forests bring to surrounding regions. For farmers, they bring cooler air and more rainfall. Hopefully putting numbers on these benefits will help to persuade a broader set of people to protect forest areas.”
This cooling effect occurs through evapotranspiration, akin to human sweat, which helps regulate body temperature. The study highlights that this cooling effect extends further than previously recognised.
Several peer-reviewed studies underscore the Amazon’s vital role in maintaining a stable regional climate. Earlier research demonstrated that forest clearance led to reduced rainfall up to 125 miles away, while recent studies on a broader scale revealed the interconnectedness of the Amazon with the South American monsoon, indicating potential 30% reductions in regional precipitation due to continued deforestation, posing threats to food production.
Unlike previous studies focusing on the local effects of forest clearance, the new research explores whether there is a warming impact over a more extensive area. Utilising satellite data and artificial intelligence, the study identifies a 0.7°C temperature increase for every 10-percentage point loss of forest within a 60-mile radius.
“We show that regional forest loss increases warming by more than a factor of four with serious consequences for the remaining Amazon forest and the people living there.”
Lead author Ed Butt emphasises that these findings should be viewed not as an alarm but as a valuable tool to incentivise the sustainable management of the forest.
”If we could reduce deforestation, then we could avert a good amount of regional warming. I see that as a big opportunity. It demonstrates the big benefit of reducing deforestation for local farmers … The most important thing is that states like Mato Grosso can follow different futures. This hands back control to regions and states. They could really reduce the amount of warming they will be exposed to.”
The study underscores the importance of considering the broader regional consequences of deforestation, encouraging a shift towards sustainable practices for both environmental and economic benefits.
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