Florian Hofhansl

Tropical Ecosystem Research

Tropical Forests alone absorb 1/5 of all human fossil fuel emissions, says NASA

Tropical Forests

A recent study by NASA and the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NACR) estimates that from the 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbed globally, 1.4 billion metric tons of this is absorbed solely by tropical forests.

The paper entitled “Effect of increasing CO2 on the terrestrial carbon cycle” also suggests that this particularly large concentration of absorption is tropical forests’ response to increasing levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Not only this, but they may become more effective at CO2 absorption as these levels increase.

All forests worldwide, with tropical ones included, absorb around 1/3 of all human fossil fuel emissions. The study’s lead author, and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, David Schimel emphasised the importance of them for this purpose.

“While forests cannot solve the CO2 and climate change problem, without them the problem would be even harder,” Schimel said.

All forests, particularly dense tropical forests, capture and store carbon. Scientists call them “carbon sinks” because they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in tree bark, wood and roots. Logging trees has the opposite effect, as when a tree is cut down and its wood is burnt or decomposes, it releases the stored greenhouse gas back into the atmosphere.

Atmospheric scientist at the NACR and the study’s co-author Britton Stephens commented that although there are opposing opinions in the scientific community about how effective tropical forests are at storing these emissions, it is clear that natural ecosystems are offsetting a large percentage of them.

“Tropical forests are providing a significant climate benefit,” he said. “The most important thing we can do is not cut them down.”

This study was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences and can be found on their website.

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