Learning about the climate through forests

What does studying forests teach us about the climate?

Our forests are an important part of life on earth for lots of reasons – one being that they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. But what happens when the forests are cut down and how does this affect climate?

Do you know how to tell the age of a tree? Maybe you know it’s something you find when you cut into the trunk. By counting the rings, you can find out the age of a tree. Have a look out for tree stumps next time you’re in the park or woods, and you can count them for yourself.

You might also know that those rings hold clues to the climate in the past – wet years will mean wider gaps between the rings as the tree grew very quickly, whereas very dry years will have narrower gaps as the tree didn’t grow much that year.

Forests can help unlock many more secrets about the climate. They take carbon dioxide from the air and store it in trees, plants and the soil. They are also home to much of the world’s wildlife.

Phil

Hi I’m Phil – and I’m a forest scientist.

Maybe you’ve been learning at school that forests are important – and one reason is that trees, like all plants, absorb carbon dioxide which is a gas we exhale and which is a waste product from burning fossil fuels. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet becomes.

So it’s great that plants store carbon. But how can we tell how much?

I use lasers to estimate the weight of trees – this helps us figure out how much carbon, something we call biomass, there is in the environment and how it’s moving between plants and the atmosphere. Sometimes satellites are used to measure the forests as well – we use a variety of technology to gather as much information as we can.

It’s really important for us to be able to measure this because we know that humans are causing damage to forests.

This damage is not just caused by chopping forests down but also when fires are used to clear the ground. As well as releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, cutting down forests can affect the local climate and environment. Rainfall patterns can be disrupted also – that’s important for local people.

And by removing the forests, we are also threatening the animals and plants that live there with extinction. Once a forest is cleared, modern industrial farming can decrease the soil’s nutrients, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. So by measuring the amount of carbon in forests we can get a clearer picture of how important they are for protecting our planet against climate change.

We’ve met a few climate explorers now and something they all have in common is that gathering information is an important part of their jobs – whether it’s from the clouds or volcanos, the seabed or the rainforests.

Next, we’ll be doing some puddle jumping and finding out how we can learn about climate change from flooding – right here in the UK… click here!

You can hear Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers weekdays from 5pm on Fun Kids!

Get the series on your phone or tablet and listen whenever you like – at home or in the car!

…or you can listen here:

Marina Ventura: Kids Guide to Our Planet

The podcast exploring the environment, ecology, oceans and climates on our planet Earth.

 

Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers with support from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Additional support thanks to Liverpool John Moores University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Met Office, and King’s College London.

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