Using data from 2000 to 2010 on global changes in forest cover, the researchers developed a new model to quantify how those changes affect land surface temperatures. Their results, published Wednesday in the academic journal Plos, showed that tropical forests are particularly sensitive, altering their abilities to reflect sunlight and increasing the loss of moisture.
"When you think about the cooling effect of forests in the context of climate change, the effect on local temperatures is really important," coauthor Barry Sinervo said, adding he "was very surprised by the impact of these deforested patches on temperatures in adjacent patches of intact habitat. That should be alarming."
With this model. the authors applied a time projection to predict local temperature change in Brazil starting from 2010 to 2050. Assuming the current rate of illegal deforestation is maintained, this prognosticated an annual land surface temperature rise of up to 1.45 degrees Celsius.
However, if no further illegal deforestation occurred, the temperature rise could be far more limited, affirmed the report. As they found that deforestation and forestation generally appeared to have opposite effects of similar magnitude. In tropical and temperate regions, deforestation led to warming, while forestation had cooling effects yet the first effect was usually stronger.
Satellite images of Rondônia in western Brazil, taken in 1975 (left) and 2009 (right). Photos: NASA
"Forests have the potential to attenuate the levels of local warming even in the face of ongoing climate change, but this is most pronounced in tropical regions compared to temperate regions of the world," Sinervo advised.
According to figures released by the Brazilian government in November 2018, deforestation has risen by 13.7 percent since the same time last year. The highest level in a decade, as 7,900 sq km of the Amazon rainforest were cut down from August 2017 to July 2018, an area roughly five times the size of Mexico City.
A situation that will aggravate, according to experts, as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies are intended to open more native and protected territory for commercial profit. Just ten days after Brazil’s right-wing head of state took office, witnesses say dozens of men invaded protected Indigenous land in a remote corner of the Amazon.
The Brazilian minister of agriculture is now also responsible to expand the agricultural border in the country, expanding exploitable lands mainly towards the Amazon forest. Through this ministry, Bolsonaro plans to open up Indigenous reserves for cattle raising, agriculture and mining.