Trees are not re-growing in burned-out forests. This strange occurrence is becoming more frequent as global warming turns verdant flora into flammable tinder, causing more and bigger wild forests fires.
This article will examine the science behind failure of trees to regrow in burned-out forests. Additionally, and as a collateral issue, this puts one more distorted face on the consequential impact of the multi-billion dollar business called “woody biomass,” which burns trees in place of coal to meet carbon neutral protocols.
As a consequence, between the twin impacts of burned-out forests failing to regrow and woody biomass chopping down mature trees that are strong carbon sinks replaced by frail seedlings, one has to wonder about nature’s “carbon sink” capacity. Is it shrinking just when it’s needed like never before?
Woody biomass is as bad, if not worse, as burning coal. (See – The Woody Biomass Blunder, November 15, 2021)
Regarding the effectiveness of CO2 uptake by commercial tree plantations used to produce wood chips for sale in the international woody biomass market: “Single-tree commercial crop plantations may meet the technical definition of a ‘forest’ – a certain concentration of trees in a given area- but factor in land clearing to plant the crop and frequent harvesting of the trees, and such plantations can actually release more carbon than they sequester,” Simon Lewis, forest ecologist/University College London (Source: Why Planting Tons of Trees Isn’t Enough to Solve Climate Change, Science News, July 9, 2021)
There are several studies and outspoken scientists’ statements about woody biomass emitting more CO2 than burning coal. Yet, in order to meet carbon neutral standards, 60% of EU renewable energy is from wood chips. Somebody at the EU is cuckoo.
Failure of Tree Regrowth
A University of Colorado/Boulder study shows that when forests burn across significant portions of the Rocky Mountains, the forests do not regrow, even after 15 years post-fire, 80% of the surveyed plots contained no new trees. (Source: Lisa Marshall, Forests Scorched by Wildfire Unlikely to Recover, May Convert to Grasslands, CU Boulder Today, August 25, 2020)
The study looked at 22 separate burned-out areas from southern Wyoming thru central/western Colorado to northern New Mexico. The study included regions that had burned as long ago as 1988, including land ravaged by the 2002 Hayman Fire near Colorado Springs; the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire southwest of Denver; the 2000 Eldorado Springs and Walker Ranch fires near Boulder; and the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire outside of Durango.
“This study and others clearly show that the resilience of our forests to fire has declined significantly under warmer, drier conditions,” coauthor Tom Veblen, professor of geography, CU Boulder, Ibid.
Global warming has contributed to a doubling of the number of acres burned across the country since the 1990s.
Increasing global temperature wipes out seedlings, especially in the US West where summer temperatures have increased so much that young trees do not have a chance to develop thick protective bark, and failure of regrowth in dry conditions finds seedlings shriveling before roots can grow deep enough to reach groundwater.
Anthropogenic global warming is inhibiting and/or destroying one of nature’s biggest, and best, solutions for combating CO2 emissions. And, even worse yet, humans are chopping down trees to burn for energy, thereby releasing years and years of stored CO2 from the trees into the atmosphere.
Global Warming Ravages Forests Throughout the World.
“New studies show drought and heat waves will cause massive die-offs, killing most trees alive today.” (Source: We Need to Hear These Poor Trees Scream: Unchecked Global Warming Means Big Trouble for Forests, Inside Climate News, April 25, 2020)
According to Bill Anderegg, a forest researcher at the University of Utah: “Global warming has pushed many of the world’s forests to a knife edge… in the West, you can’t drive on a mountain highway without seeing how global warming affects forests,” Ibid.
Giant Sequoias, the Grand Daddy of the world’s trees are “dying from the top down.” This has never been documented before. According to Christy Brigham, chief of resource management for national parks: “We’ve never observed this before.” (Source: Craig Welch, The Grand Old Trees of the World are Dying, Leaving Forests Younger and Shorter, National Geographic, May 28, 2020)
According to the National Geographic article: The loss of Giant Sequoias is but one example of a worrisome worldwide trend: “Trees in forests are dying at increasingly high rates, especially the bigger, older trees,” Ibid.
Nate McDowell, an earth scientist at the US Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the lead author of a major worldwide study of tree loss, says: “We’re seeing it almost everywhere we look.” (Nate G. McDowell, et al, Pervasive Shifts in Forest Dynamics in a Changing World, Science, Vol. 268, Issue 6494, 29 May 2020)
The numbers are staggering: From 1900 to 2015 the world lost more than a third of its old-growth forests. Ever since, the numbers are accelerating. The causes are mostly anthropogenic, meaning logging and land-clearing, plus fossil fuel emissions that bring forth rising global temperatures significantly magnifying the rate of dying, as droughts extend longer and harsher, resulting in extremely brittle tinder, leading to massive wildfires. The upshot is a world on fire like never before as dead trees burn quickly and easily.
According to Henrik Hartmann of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, in central Europe: “You don’t have to look for dead trees… They’re everywhere,” Ibid.
Africa and South America are likewise feeling the brunt of massive tree deaths. Global warming has brought drought conditions that are severe, repeating within ever-shorter time sequences that don’t give nature enough time to revive, to regrow, to survive.
Recent Siberian fires have been Biblical in scale and intensity. A June 2020 article in SciTechDaily headlined: “Meteorologists Shocked as Heat and Fire Scorches Siberia.” One half of the massive fires are peatlands, which, once started can burn almost forever if the heat is intense enough, which it was/is, emitting both CO2 and CH4.
The CO2 Cycle at Work
The curse of CO2 blanketing the atmosphere and trapping heat, as the planet gets ever-hotter, it causes the atmosphere to suck excessive levels of moisture, which causes trees to shed leaves and/or close pores to hold in as much moisture as possible. This, in turn, curtails CO2 uptake. It’s a vicious cycle that impedes the carbon uptake cycle that’s key to maintaining an ecological balance for the planet.
In the final analysis, “Forests are our last, best natural defense against global warming. Without the world’s trees at peak physical condition, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.” (Eric Holthaus, Up in Smoke, Grist, March 8, 2018)
Robert Hunziker is a writer from Los Angeles
Dane Wigington discusses this here.
I am less interested in predictive articles but this reflects what Margo and I have been noticing over the past 4 years
Research published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests rainfall will become more common in the Arctic than snowfall, and decades sooner than previously thought—findings that elicited fresh warnings about the necessity of ambitious climate action.
“As the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet, evidence mounts that the region is experiencing unprecedented environmental change,” says the study, spearheaded by Michelle McCrystall, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba.
“The transition from a snow- to rain-dominated Arctic in the summer and autumn is projected to occur decades earlier and at a lower level of global warming, potentially under 1.5°C, with profound climatic, ecosystem, and socioeconomic impacts,” the paper continues, referencing the Paris climate agreement’s lower temperature target for the end of this century.
McCrystall detailed the anticipated consequences of this transition, which is happening because of rapid global heating, poleward moisture transport, greater Arctic amplification, sea-ice loss, and increased sensitivity of precipitation to regional warming.
“People might say, ‘Well, what has that got to do with me?’ Well, this is going to affect you, and in actual fact, it is affecting you now,” McCrystall said in a statement. “For me, I think what people need to understand is, we live in a global society where everything is interconnected, and that’s true of the climate. We have a global climate. So, what happens in one region, will affect what happens everywhere else.”
“There are huge ramifications of these changes, which we note in the paper, such as a reduction of snow cover, increased permafrost melt, more rain-on-snow events, and greater flooding events from increased river discharge, all of which have implications on wildlife populations and human livelihoods,” the lead researcher explained.
Her team was finalizing their paper this year when, in August, rain fell on the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet for the first time in recorded history.
“The fact that we’re getting rainfall on the summit of Greenland right now, and that we’re maybe going to get more rainfall into the future—it kind of staggers me,” she said. “And when we talk about this happening in 2100, it seems like such a long time away, but it’s only 80 years. That’s the next generation. And if we continue the trajectory that we’re going, a lot of issues might happen even faster than what we’ve projected.”
As co-author James Screen at the University of Exeter put it: “The new models couldn’t be clearer that unless global warming is stopped, the future Arctic will be wetter; once-frozen seas will be open water, rain will replace snow.”
In addition to reducing snow cover—which will further exacerbate warming in the region and globally—the shift to more rain will impact soil moisture and groundwater “as well as flora, fauna, and linked social-ecological systems.”
While the researchers expect migratory birds to do well with the changing conditions, increased rainfall could have a “devastating” impact on wild caribou, reindeer, and muskoxen populations.
“The issue facing us today is that the Arctic is changing so fast that Arctic wildlife might not be able to adapt,” said co-author Mark Serreze, director of the United States’ National Snow and Ice Data Center. “It’s not just a problem for the reindeer, caribou, and muskox, but for the people of the North that depend on them as well.”
Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Agence France-Presse that he felt the study did not prove the rain shift would come earlier than expected, but also said its results “imply that the worst impacts can be avoided if countries match their stated intentions to cut emissions in line with the Paris agreement.”
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, during the COP26 climate summit in Scotland, a recent analysis found that even if countries meet their emissions targets for this decade, the global temperature could still climb to 2.4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
Richard Allan at the U.K.’s University of Reading—who, like NASA’s Schmidt, was not involved in the research—framed the findings about Arctic rainfall as an urgent warning to humanity.
“Exploiting a state-of-the-art set of complex computer simulations, this new study paints a worrying picture of future Arctic climate change that is more rapid and substantial than previously thought,” he told The Guardian. “This research rings alarm bells for the Arctic and beyond.”