Tree planting isn’t actually universally beneficial for our planet, since some reforestation efforts actually help accelerate climate change, researchers have recently discovered.
The surprising conclusions were presented in the journal Science on Friday, February 5, following a study conducted by experts at the Climate and Environment Sciences Laboratory (LSCE) in France.
The purpose of the research was to determine the effects of tree planting throughout Europe in the last two and a half centuries.
As study authors explain, between 1750 and 1850, the oldest continent was depleted of oak trees and birch, which were extremely useful when it came to reflecting solar energy back into space, boosting this albedo effect thanks to their light-colored, broad leaves.
In order to combat the alarming trend consisting in massive deforestation, extensive tree planting efforts were initiated, but apparently they involved the wrong kind of replacement for the old forests.
More precisely, conifers such as spruce, pine and fir were preferred, given the fact that they tend to have quicker growth cycles and also a much greater commercial appeal.
Namely, these cone-bearing gymnosperms can be used in order to build furniture or homes, and are also essential as a raw material for the pulp and paper industry.
The problem is that darker-colored plants like the Scots pine tree (Pinus sylvestris L.) and the Norway spruce (Picea abies) tend to absorb sunlight and heat, therefore causing temperatures to increase.
In theory, all plants can soak up carbon dioxide, which is the main type of greenhouse gas that results from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
However, as study author Kim Naudts points out, some tree planting can actually cause more harm than good, and conifers are definitely not the best choice when it comes to halting global warming and climate change.
This becomes obvious when considering the fact that average temperatures during summer have increased by around 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.12 degrees Celsius) throughout Europe, even though the surface covered by forests has been expanded by approximately a tenth.
Namely, conifer trees have been planted across 244,000 square miles, in order to compensate for the fact that oak tree and birch forests have dwindled by around 168,000 square miles.
As a result, forested areas have been augmented by circa 76,000 miles, eventually stretching across around 822,398 square miles in 2010, but since all these reforestation measures concerned solely heat-absorbing trees, positive effects were minimal.
In fact, study authors estimate that the rise in temperatures that can be attributed to misguided tree planting corresponds to around 6% of the global warming triggered by human activities across Europe.
Researchers are also of the opinion that similar negative effects associated with inadequate reforestation can also be encountered in other regions, such as the United States, Russia or China.
Based of these findings, it becomes clear that forest management practices must be revised in order to take into account a much wider variety of factors that influence the potential benefits that tree planting can have.
More precisely, local governments should carefully consider what trees must be replaced and if the same variety can be used during reforestation, because otherwise oak tree and birch woodlands will continue to lose ground to pine trees and spruce.
In addition, more emphasis should be placed on analyzing local weather patterns (amount of rainfall, average temperatures etc.), as well as the geological and geomorphological particularities of the region (soil composition and moisture etc.)
This way, it will be possible to plant exactly the trees that are needed in the area, in order to decelerate global warming instead of exacerbating it even further.
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