Science

Published on October 13th, 2008 | by alexfelsinger

11

Thank Global Warming for New Tree Growth

Quicker-melting snow cover will allow forests to encroach on meadows and, ironically, eventually aid in cooling the planet.

Regina Rochefort, a National Park Service science adviser at Mount Rainier, said the meadows surrounding the famous peak have been shrinking because of less snowfall and shorter periods of snow cover. In the past, the snow has restricted new tree growth with freezing temperatures a limited water supply.[social_buttons]

So you’re probably thinking this is great news—after all, more trees will store more carbon, right? But according to a study performed last year, the good news is more so that less snow will mean more water for the trees, which will dramatically increase the forest’s overall cooling impact.

Trees are not only carbon-sinks, but they also perform two other climate-affecting tasks: they absorb light into their dark leaves—causing a warming effect—and they pull water out of the ground and into the air, creating low clouds that promote cooling.

When the ground is covered with snow, the trees cannot absorb enough water from the ground to significantly impact cooling though evaporation. In fact, trees in snow-covered areas can often advance global warming rather than slow it down.

So, essentially, the trees on Mount Rainier may now actually be better prepared to fight global warming because of the impacts of climate change itself. But don’t think that the damage that caused the snow to melt in the first place will be reversed any time soon merely by trees making more clouds. If only it were so simple.

Photo Credit: Pfly on Flickr under Creative Commons license.



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  • http://www.ElectricBikeGuy.com Electric Bike Guy

    Interesting point of view. Will that still be true if Mt. Rainier stops getting any snow at all?

    As a neighbor Oregonian, I’m all for more trees but it would seem contrary to the arguments other environmental websites speak about lowering albedo and that water vapor is, in itself, a greenhouse gas.

    http://www.ElectricBikeGuy.com

  • Joe B.

    It’s funny how from one extreme to the other in our scientific views yet we somehow still think we know it all. If anything, the constant changing scientific landscape should teach us all that nobody really knows what’s going on, but with the help of science and math we can get a “rough understanding” of how it all works. To assume we can predict the planet and it’s cycles (and reaction to man made events) from what little we know is like saying “last weeks lotto was all even numbers, this week will be even too!”. We just don’t know enough now to say one way or the other and really the lemmings (YOU!) will believe whatever scientist happens to have the best political clout.

    It happened it the 80′s, except then it was global cooling and we were going into another ice age. The scientist of the day were just as adamant about it as the new grew of global warming nutjobs. Now I’m told to believe the earth is warming and we’re going to destroy the ecosystem, sea levels will rise so much many gulf coast states will be mostly underwater. Seriously? If you are a self thinking type of person there is not one other conclusion you can come to but “we just don’t know what is going to happen”. To say otherwise is to either be a willing player in the government spin-cycle or to be a lemming who only knows how to repeat what has been said to them. Hopefully we’ll leave it up to the free thinkers to run the world, because the lemmings will destroy us just as the government spin-cycle crowd has now with this financial mess.

  • anon

    Your first link from SciAm disagrees with you. It says that non-tropical forests do not sink much carbon and that if dark trees replace highly reflective snow/ice you are worse off. The oceans are the primary carbon sink anyway.

    Additionally, evaporation won’t cool the planet, because it only moves heat from the ground into the atmosphere, where, like electricbikeguy said, it’s a greenhouse gas. Clouds tend to dissipate once past the Cascade Crest anyway.

  • Random Digger

    “Trees do sequester carbon dioxide everywhere… but are more likely to trap heat in in upper latitudes..”

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/planting_trees.php

    I’m sure “treehugger” is more reliable of a source than any. Interpret it how you will.

  • Jim Mason

    Wow man, Such a beautiful place.

    Jiff
    http://www.privacy.de.tc

  • http://collegiatevegetarian.blogspot.com Mike G.

    this isn’t as ironic as you think, life is self-regulating, so why shouldn’t climate be (through life)?

  • anarcholis

    Quicker-melting snow cover will allow forests to encroach on meadows and, ironically, eventually aid in cooling the planet.

    Arrggghh…why would you add the word ironically? Its not ironic at all. The earth has a multitude of built in feedback mechanisms that help to maintain its temperature; if it didn’t it would have long since either turned to a blisteringly hot Venus or a frozen Europa.

    Warmer temperatures and carbon dioxide spur tree growth that helps to cool the planet; warmer temperature cause more evaporation over oceans which leads to move cloud cover and a more reflective atmosphere….thus cooling the planet.

    There are many such feedback systems and I really wish that people would appreciate them and not believe that global warming will soon lead to calamity. Global warming will be mitigated by the earth’s feedback systems, and the few degree temperature increase that does occur will have myriad beneficial effects, from making parts of Siberia and Canada suitable for farming (that’s a lot of arable land to help feed the world) to increasing world rainfall and helping alleviate the potable water shortage that is the true environmental crisis that the world faces.

    The earth has been going along just fine for billions of years and even made it through a few high powered meteor strikes….it’ll survive humanity too, I promise.

  • http://www.oregonwild.org Doug

    Nice post. You scratch the surface of some of the complexities of forests, carbon, and climate change. If readers want to dig deeper check out these two links.

    Here is a slide show clarifying many misconceptions about forests and carbon:
    http://www.slideshare.net/guestf419ee/debunking-myths-about-forest-carbon-and-global-warming/

    And here is a detailed foot-noted report on forests, carbon and climate change:
    http://tinyurl.com/2n96m5

  • wynne

    it’s a right way for global warming. do you know, in the world, there are destroyer(human) and repairer(all live thing, except human). but, if the human doesn’t care anymore, world will become qiyamat/destroyed at all. are you human???

  • victor hopper

    the increase in co2 is causing all plant life to grow faster

  • Travis

    new tree growth will help, but there is also new desert growth not shown in the pictures, here is a funny joke I saw about global warming http://ponderingstuff.com/2010/02/06/coke%e2%80%99s-effect-on-global-warming/

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