By Chris Lang
This week’s REDD notes. Follow @reddmonitor on Twitter for more links to news about forests, the climate crisis, natural climate solutions, the oil industry, greenwash, carbon offsetting, etc.
In a new paper in Science, researchers have compiled a continuous record of variations in the earth’s climate going back 66 million years. The datasets were compiled from chemical analyses of ancient sediments drilled from the bottom of the ocean. The sediments include shells of organisms that reveal the temperature and chemical composition of the ocean when they were formed.
The scientists found that the planet has gone through four climate phases: warmhouse, hothouse, coolhouse, and icehouse.
The changes currently happening to the earth’s climate as a result of burning fossil fuels are happening at a speed never seen before. In a statement, James Zachos, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said, “The IPCC projections for 2300 in the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario will potentially bring global temperature to a level the planet has not seen in 50 million years.”
Scientific American points out that, “It’s not an inevitable future. With immediate and stringent action to reduce climate change, the world can keep global temperatures from rising more than a few degrees above their preindustrial levels.”
A study published in Nature Communications found that as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, trees are growing faster, but they are also dying younger.
Co-author Steve Voelker of the department of environmental and forest biology at Syracuse University New York told the Guardian that,
“Our findings indicate that there are traits within the fastest-growing trees that make them vulnerable, whereas slower-growing trees have traits that allow them to persist. [The] carbon uptake rates of forests are likely to be on the wane as slow-growing and persistent trees are supplanted by fast-growing but vulnerable trees.”
A study in Science found that over a 22-year period the extent and rate of forest degradation was greater than deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. From 1992 to 2014, the total area of degraded forest was 337,427 square kilometres. The area of deforestation was 308,311 square kilometres.
Tommaso Jucker of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, who was not part of the study, notes that, “while overall rates of degradation across the Brazilian Amazon have declined since the 1990s – in line with decreases in deforestation and associated habitat fragmentation – rates of selective logging and forest fires have almost doubled. In particular, in the past 15 years logging has expanded west into a new frontier that up until recently was considered too remote to be at risk.”
The authors of the study in Science conclude that,
The overall conclusion from this work is that forest degradation is a significant form of landscape and ecosystem disturbance. Degradation in the BA is a persistent form of disturbance, not simply one that is eventually replaced by deforestation. Focusing attention on deforestation alone ignores an additional area of forest degraded by selective logging, understory fire, edge effects, and isolation of fragments that is equal in areal extent to cleared forest.
The Pantanal is one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world. It is also the world’s largest tropical wetland. The New York Times reports that this year has seen more than 10% of the Pantanal on fire, an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres burnt.
The fires are set by ranchers and farmers to clear land and have been made worse by extremely dry conditions in recent weeks.
The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reports that fires in the Brazilian Amazon increased in September 2020. In July, there were 2 fires per day, a figure that increased to 18 fires per day in August. In the first week of September, the figure increased to 53 major fires per day across the Brazilian Amazon.
MAAP also found a major increase in Amazon forest fires, with an area of 362,000 hectares impacted by forest fires. In September, 27% of all major fires were forest fires, up from 13% in August, and 1% in July.
The weekend of 5-6 September 2020 was “the weekend that climate change, in California, stopped being about the future”, writes Elizabeth Weil on ProPublica. There were all-time record high temperatures with the National Weather Service describing Sunday 6 September as “one of the hottest days since official weather records began across much of Southwestern California”.
There was an “unprecedented in size and scope” airlift of 200 campers at Mammoth Lake who were surrounded by the Creek fire.
And the New York Times reports that 10 people died in the Bear Fire, northeast of Oroville, California. Firefighters are struggling to contain fires in the states of California, Oregan and Washington, including the largest in California’s recorded history.
ProPublica’s Weil has a bizarre interview with former Governor Jerry Brown in which Brown tells her about faith, hope and charity. Weil notes that California’s climate change legislation includes sleight of hand: “shell games of carbon credits, a focus on inventing incredible new sustainable-energy tech while still pumping over 10 million barrels of oil a year out of the ground.”
In an article in the Ecologist, Abhishek Srivastava of HNB Garhwal Central University, Srinagar-Garhwal, Uttarakhand, writes about forest fires in India over the past decade. Last year, the Forest Survey of India, which has been keeping records of fires and conducting field investigations since 1965, published a report analysing areas in India prone to fires.
More than 20% of India’s forest cover is either highly or extremely fire prone. Last year almost 30,000 fires were detected. Srivastava writes that,
Global heating is contributing to forest fires, and those fires are stoking further heating: a deadly cycle. Observations over the past twenty years show that the increasing intensity and spread of forest fires in Asia were largely related to rises in temperature and declines in precipitation, in combination with an increasing intensity of land use.