Tree death risk increase with climate change

A new study has shown that climate change increases the risk of tree deaths and this effectively means that all of the carbon in trees and forests worldwide could be thrown back into the atmosphere again if the trees burn up in a forest fire. Trees also stop scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air if they die due to drought or insect damage.

The likelihood of those threats impacting forests is increasing nationwide, according to new research in Ecology Letters, making relying on forests to soak up carbon emissions a much riskier prospect.

Researchers  modeled the risk of tree death from fire, climate stress (heat and/or drought) and insect damage for forests throughout the United States, projecting how those risks might increase over the course of the 21st century.

By 2099, the models found, that United States forest fire risks may increase by between four and 14 times, depending on different carbon emissions scenarios. The risks of climate stress-related tree death and insect mortality may roughly double over the same time.

But in those same models, human actions to tackle climate change mattered enormously—reducing the severity of climate change dramatically reduced the fire, drought and insect-driven forest die-off.

According to researchers, climate change is going to supercharge three big disturbances in the U.S. Forest fires are increasing and along with really hot and dry years tend to drive lots of fires, climate-driven tree mortality and insect outbreaks.

The study is published in Ecology Letters and was supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, David and Lucille Packard Foundation and Microsoft’s AI for Earth.

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