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UVA professor says forests do much more than absorb and store carbon

University of Virginia
Forests provide local and global cooling.

UVA’s Environmental Science Professor Deborah Lawrence and her colleagues took data on trees from hundreds of studies, then used computer modeling to conclude that up to a third of the good forests do in slowing climate change comes – not from absorbing CO2 – but from doing other things. For example, trees release water vapor through pores in their leaves, and just as sweating helps to cool our bodies, the process known as evapotranspiration cools the forest.

“It’s like a giant air conditioner,” she explains.

Lawrence adds that the uneven edge of the tree canopy pushes hot air higher.

“We feel cooler down here, because the heat has been transferred further up into the atmosphere.”

Trees also absorb heat and produce aerosols that can lower temperatures by reflecting sunlight and seeding clouds.

The bottom line is that countries shouldn’t wait for big, industrial nations like the U.S. or China to solve the problem of climate change.

“By replanting forests or maintaining forests they can save their people and their agriculture and their natural ecosystems from a good bit of warming."

Lawrence says big corporations should also be putting money into forest restoration.

“Every big company out there seems to be creating a net zero pledge, and they’re all looking for ways to make good on their pledges.”

She and her colleagues published their findings in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.

To read the new study on how forests shape our climate go to https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2022.756115/full



Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.