Deforestation is occurring today at alarming rates, as determined through the analysis of satellite imagery. It accounts for about 20 percent of the heat-trapping gas emissions worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates current tropical deforestation at 53,000 square miles per year (15,400,000 ha/yr). This equates to an area roughly the size of North Carolina being deforested each year.
Tropical forests hold enormous amounts of carbon. In fact, the plants and soil of tropical forests hold 507 to 634 billion tons (460 to 575 billion metric tons) of carbon worldwide. This equates to each acre of tropical forest storing roughly 198 tons (180 metric tons) of carbon.
Deforestation threatens to upset the global CO2 balance. Roughly 53,000 square miles (137,269.4 km2) are lost per year. (Rhett Butler, Mongabay.com)
When a forest is cut and replaced by pastures or cropland, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks joins with the oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as CO2. Because the wood in a tree is about 50 percent carbon, deforestation has a significant effect on global warming and the global carbon cycle. In fact, according to the Tropical Rainforest Information Center, from the mid-1800s to 1990, worldwide deforestation released 134 billion tons (122 billion metric tons) of carbon into the atmosphere. Currently, 1.8 billion tons (1.6 billion metric tons) is released to the atmosphere each year. As a comparison, all of the fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) release about 6 billion tons (5 billion metric tons) per year. Tropical deforestation is the largest source of emissions for many developing countries.
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According to Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), he and an international team of 11 research scientists found that if deforestation rates were cut in half by 2050, it would amount to 12 percent of the emissions reductions needed to keep the concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere at relatively safe levels.
There are multiple impacts of deforestation. Many of the most severe impacts will be to the tropical rain forests. Even though they cover only about 7 percent of the Earth's land surface, they provide a habitat for about 50 percent of all the known species on Earth. Some of these endemic species (species found only in that particular area) have become so specialized in their respective habitat niches, that if the climate changes, which then causes the ecosystem to also change, this will threaten the health and existence of many species, even to the point of extinction. In addition to the species that are destroyed, the ones that remain behind in the isolated remaining forest fragments become very vulnerable and sometimes are threatened to extinction themselves. The outer margins of the remaining forests become dried out as well and are also subjected to die-off.
Two other major impacts in addition to the loss of biodiversity is the loss of natural resources such as timber, fruit, nuts, medicine, oils, resins, latex, and spices; as well as the resultant economic impact along with the extreme reductions of genetic diversity. The loss of genetic diversity could mean a huge loss for the future health of humans. Hidden in the genes of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria that may not have even been discovered yet could be the cures for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and Alzheimer's disease. The United Nations FAO states, "The keys to improving the yield and
(opposite page) This represents the net change in forest area between 2000 and 2005. Most of the decrease is occurring in the developing countries, where many people depend solely on income from forests. (modeled after IPCC)
nutritional quality of foods may also be found inside the rain forest and it will be crucial for feeding the nearly ten billion people the Earth will likely need to support in the coming decades."
Two of the largest climate impacts will revolve around rainfall and temperature. One-third of the rain that falls in the tropical rain forest is rain that was generated in the water cycle by the rain forest itself. Water is recycled locally as it is evaporated from the soil and vegeta-
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