Sunday, October 11, 2015

Seeing the forest, saving the trees

There is a provocative and information-laden piece in The New York Times that links Amazon rain forest clear-cutting to drought on two continents to climate change worldwide.

Read it for the clearly-explained science, and the message, which is, seriously, go hug a tree. They are saving your lives, and the planet:

Trees take up moisture from the soil and transpire it, lifting it into the atmosphere. A fully grown tree releases 1,000 liters of water vapor a day into the atmosphere: The entire Amazon rain forest sends up 20 billion tons a day...
OK: Stop right there. A fully grown tree releases 1,000 liters of water vapor daily! Step outside and count the trees and multiply by 1,000 liters - - that's 264 gallons - - of water vapor daily:

Now consider the effect of major tree cutting in a 247-acre and forested nature preserve (below) near Sheboygan to build yet another Eastern Wisconsin high-end golf course...
or the disruption avoided in Northwestern Wisconsin when the forested Penokee Hills were to be blown up to dig miles of deep, open-pit iron ore mines, or some of the other high profile forest and wetlands losses projected just in our state - - one among 50 - - at 264 gallons of water vapor daily for each tree.

Now back to the Times:
The water vapor creates clouds, which are seeded with volatile gases like terpenes and isoprene, emitted by the trees naturally, to form rain. These water-rich banks of clouds travel long, wind-driven distances, a conveyor belt for the delivery of precipitation that scientists call flying rivers
You see how this is all connected?
The sky-borne river over the Amazon carries more water than the Amazon River itself. It begins as moisture that builds over the Atlantic Ocean, and then flows westward over the emerald crown of the Amazon, where it picks up far more moisture. 
The laden clouds eventually bump up against the Andes and are steered south and then east, which means rain for Bolivia and Brazil. One way forests may move water is known as “biotic pumping.”
As water transpires into the atmosphere above the forest, the theory holds, it creates a low-pressure system that sucks in air surrounding it, eventually and continually pumping moisture inland from the ocean. Cutting down forests degrades these low-pressure systems, essentially turning off the pump. Large-scale deforestation is thus believed to be a major contributor to the extreme drought in Brazil... 
One Princeton study suggested that deforesting the Amazon could potentially contribute to drought in places as far away as California, while other research indicated that recent droughts in Texas and New Mexico might be linked to cutting in the Amazon. Despite the uncertainty embedded in these and other studies, “There’s lots of evidence that changing the water cycle in the Amazon would have global consequences,” Dr. Schimel said. “It’s a fairly robust notion.”
Open your view to the big picture, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court did decades ago when it explained why the waters of the state belong to all the people and had to be protected in the public interest:
 "A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body may be eaten away until it may no longer exist.  Our navigable waters are a precious natural heritage, once gone, they disappear forever," wrote the Wisconsin State Supreme Court justices in their opinion resolving Hixon v. PSC.(2)


Betsey said...

Thanks for this most excellent post, and reminder.

James Rowen said...

Thanks for being a reader.