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Study: Deforestation could intensify climate change in Congo Basin by half
Date:4/15/2014

By 2050, deforestation could cause temperatures in the Congo Basin to increase by 0.7 C. The increase would intensify warming caused by greenhouse gases by half, according to a study by researchers at the University of Leuven, Belgium.

Explosive population growth and inefficient agricultural practices are causing large-scale destruction of tropical rainforests in Central Africa. A team of researchers from the University of Leuven examined how these practices will affect longer-term temperatures in the region. Using a sophisticated computer model, they forecasted Congo Basin temperatures anno 2050.

Their findings: Central Africa of 2050 will be an average of 1.4 C hotter than today as a result of global greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation will add an extra 0.7 C to that figure.

The results also show a strong spatial correlation between deforestation and global warming. In certain deforestation 'hot spots', increases caused by deforestation could rise to 1.25 C, in addition to the warming caused by greenhouse gases. Such drastic temperature increases will drive off plant and animal species and may even threaten some with extinction, warn the researchers.

Energy balance disturbed

The researchers used an advanced computer model based on realistic projections of the speed and the spatial pattern of deforestation to forecast changes in the Congo Basin climate. The study also maps the region's vegetation mix which has largely replaced felled forest in much of the region for the first time.

The deforestation-induced warming forecasted by the model can be attributed in large part to reduced evaporation, say the researchers. Once deforestation has occurred, the solar energy that rainforests would otherwise use to evaporate water accumulates near the Earth's surface, causing the atmosphere to warm.

This reduced evaporation also threatens precipitation levels in the region, the study predicts. H
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Contact: Wim Thiery
wim.thiery@ees.kuleuven.be
32-485-708-018
KU Leuven
Source:Eurekalert  

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