Yes, what you read is right! Despite all the deforestation, the Earth IS getting GREENER.
While most of the news is about forests diminishing, deforestation and habitat loss, recent research published today in Nature Climate Change shows that the world has actually got greener over the past decade. Despite ongoing deforestation in South America and Southeast Asia, the study found that the decline in these regions has been offset by recovering forests outside the tropics, and new growth in the drier savannas and shrublands of Africa and Australia.
Plants absorb around a quarter of the carbon dioxide that people release into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. With a greening globe, more plants may mean more absorption of carbon dioxide. If so, this will slow but not stop climate change. However, questions remain over how long plants can keep pace with our increasing emissions in a warmer climate.
The researchers studied how plants and vegetation are faring by determining the amount of carbon stored in living plant mass (or “biomass”) above the ground. They developed a new technique to map changes in vegetation biomass using satellite measurements of changes in the radio-frequency radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface, a technique called passive microwave remote sensing. The radiation varies with temperature, soil moisture and the shielding of water in vegetation biomass above the ground. They extracted this vegetation information from several satellites and merged them into one time series covering the last two decades. This allowed them to track global changes in biomass from month to month, something that was not possible before.
For the period 2003-12, the study found that the total amount of vegetation above the ground has increased by about 4 billion tonnes of carbon.
The study shows that we are losing rainforests, but gaining forests elsewhere. Forests have spontaneously regrown on farmland abandoned after the fall of communism in Russia and neighbouring countries, while large-scale tree planting projects in China have measurably added to the global biomass. This roughly offset half of the carbon loss by tropical deforestation. Unexpectedly large vegetation increases in savannas and shrublands of Australia, Africa, and South America were found. Previous analyses have focused on closed forests and did not measure this increase.
And, on average, Australia is “greener” today than it was two decades ago. This is despite ongoing land clearing, urbanisation and the recent droughts in some parts of the country.
This article is an excerpt from here.