Over the coming weeks we will be releasing a series of blog posts celebrating the research of Paul Pittman. To learn more about Paul and his relationship with Rainforest Partnership please read our memorial post by clicking here.
Paul Pittman dedicated his time at Rainforest Partnership to researching the connection between deforestation and climate change. In particular, he set out to determine the mechanisms by which the loss of tropical rainforests might impact global climate. He concluded that the loss of the world’s rainforests would affect not just local weather but could also contribute to climate change and extreme weather events all over the world.
It is a well-documented and widely accepted fact that deforestation triggers the release of Carbon Dioxide (CO2, a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. During photosynthesis, trees absorb C02, water and sunlight to create energy. This carbon is stored in the trees as biomass and is effectively locked up for as long as the tree stands. Collectively the world’s forests absorb around 40% of man-made CO2 and the Amazon rainforest alone absorbs 2 billion metric tons a year. If forests are felled, this CO2 is released back to the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. This is one way in which deforestation escalates global climate change. However, Paul’s research reveals other lesser known mechanisms by which deforestation might affect global climate.
Tropical rainforests are already known to influence local climate through a process known as coupling. Convection currents (columns of rising air) are particularly strong over rainforests because of damp, warm conditions. These convection currents deliver water vapour 10-15km into the atmosphere where it cools and falls back to the forest as rain. Because of this cycle of rising air, condensation and rainfall, the rainforest is said to be ‘coupled’ to the atmosphere, meaning that the weather in an observed area is locally generated (as opposed to the remotely generated weather typical in the rest of the world).
But is it possible that these extraordinary forests could also influence weather further afield? Paul believed they could. Through his research, and that of others, he found several specific processes that link rainforests to weather thousands of kilometers away. He called these linkages ‘teleconnections’, and they will be the subject of the next blog post in this series.
If rainforests influence global weather, Paul argued, then it stands to reason that their removal will have a negative impact on global climate. This is just one more motive for preserving the world’s rainforests: They are not only important from the point of view of biodiversity and inherent value but they are an integral part of the global weather system as well.
Please join us for the second installment of the Paul Pittman blog series, where we will discuss the linkages between rainforests and global weather (or ‘teleconnections’) in more detail.