Forest canopies that store carbon are at a crucial moment

Recent analysis reveals that the canopies of the world's tropical forests, true guardians in the fight against global warming by acting as carbon sinks, could be approaching critical temperatures faster than expected. This underscores the urgency of taking immediate action to protect these vital ecosystems and preserve our future.

The canopy, sometimes raised more than 30 meters above the ground, is a network of branches and leaves that overlap the forest trees. According to scientists, it is estimated that between 60 and 90 percent of forest life lives in this important area.

The dense canopy of trees also plays a crucial role in capturing carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere, known as an important "carbon sink." This action contributes significantly to curbing global warming and its detrimental impacts on vulnerable communities, especially those in the global South.

International study on the importance of forest canopies

Academia is full of interesting studies, and one in particular has stood out recently. Published on August 23 in Nature, this international study focused on analyzing data from tropical forests around the world.

The team led by distinguished professor Christopher Doughty of Northern Arizona University, United States, carried out a fascinating study on the influence of climate change on the leaves of the trees that make up forests. Through a thorough analysis of thermal variations within forest canopies, the researchers examined how these could be affected in the near future due to climate change. The results obtained are impressive and provide us with important insights on this crucial topic.

They calculated that tropical forests could reach a critical "tipping point" if air temperatures rose by 4 degrees Celsius.

According to Doughty, tropical forests, which are home to approximately two-thirds of global biodiversity, are experiencing an increase in temperature. This worrying statement reinforces the need to take urgent action to protect these vital ecosystems.

How much warming can tropical forests withstand?

"In our research, we detail how much warming they can potentially withstand"

"This is important because it quantifies how much less carbon society should put into the atmosphere to avoid this possible collapse of tropical forests.".

Researchers have made a shocking discovery: some individual leaves in a canopy can become significantly hotter than the average canopy temperature. This demonstrates that there is striking variability in thermal conditions affecting plants, which is important to properly understand and address the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.

"A small percentage of tropical leaves are already reaching, and occasionally exceeding, temperatures at which they can no longer function, suggesting that as climate change continues, entire canopies could die."warns the study.

In the past, accurately measuring leaf temperatures and canopy cover in tropical forests was challenging and time-consuming.

International Space Station

However, by combining ground-based measurements of individual tropical leaf temperatures, leaf warming experiments conducted on three continents, and high-resolution data provided by a new thermal imaging instrument developed by NASA and used aboard International Space Station (ISS), researchers have managed to develop a comprehensive understanding of current leaf temperatures in tropical forests. This important advance gives us a more complete understanding of climate and its effects on these ecosystems that are so vital to our planet.

This visualization represents a global view of forest height data collected by the GEDI instrument aboard the International Space Station. Brown and dark green represent shorter vegetation. Bright green and white represent taller vegetation. This visualization uses data collected between April 2019 and April 2020. Height is exaggerated to represent variation at this scale. Adapted from NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

The team was able to create a model that shows how these temperatures are expected to change in the face of global warming caused by human activity. This demonstrates the power and precision of scientists in predicting how climate change will affect our environmental conditions.

Conclusions from the work on forest canopies

"For the first time, this work combines all data sets from leaf temperature and warming experiments from tropical forests around the planet, uses a new NASA thermal satellite, and combines these data into a model to simulate possible climate scenarios. future"says Doughty.

"In essence, we uniquely measure individual leaf temperatures across all tropical forests and use this to predict the fate of tropical forests.".

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