Deforestation and global cooling: Wood you believe it?

Roxana Shafiee
Saturday 30 May 2015

Taking part in the Laidlaw research internship has afforded me the opportunity to closer examine an urgent environment problem using a unique approach. It has long been established that deforestation reduces the ability of the land to assimilate CO2, leading to a rise in atmospheric CO2 and a subsequent increase in mean global temperature. Although some deforestation projects are aimed to be ecologically beneficial; e.g. restoration of peat bog habitats for birds in the Forsinard Flows of the Scottish Highlands, the impact of such projects on the Earth’s radiation budget and global warming is still not fully understood.

Areas that have been deforested as part of the RSPB peat bog restoration programme in the Forsinard Flows Reserve, Scottish Highlands.
Areas that have been deforested as part of the RSPB peat bog restoration programme in the Forsinard Flows Reserve, Scottish Highlands.

My research so far has involved using a variety of data sets to quantify the albedo (how reflective the Earth’s surface is) of sites, which have been deforested in the Forsinard Flows Reserve (as shown in the above image). Greater albedo values mean that the surface reflects more energy back into space – leading to a cooling effect. Albedo data has been obtained from the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument aboard the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites. Comparison of this data with carbon cycle data gives critical insight into which process is most significant in altering the climate in terms of deforestation; the carbon cycle or changes to albedo. If it is found that a significant increase in albedo accompanies deforestation, then this may impact the way in which deforestation is viewed in terms of it’s role in climate change.

I have noticed that although the project does not require leadership of other people, self-leadership is proving to be vital in ensuring that my time is used productively and effectively. I anticipate that over the following weeks my research will allow me to develop these skills which can be applied to my academic work in my final year at St Andrews.

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