Climate Scientists (Re?)Discover Trees Produce Shade



From our friends at Center for Western Priorities. Honestly I kind of got a laugh out of this, as plants, animals, insects and so on picked up on this billions of years ago.  It’s not the study so much, but the  CWP summary…

A new study finds that protected forests with limits on human activity are significantly cooler than neighboring forests that lack protections.

 The findings suggest the cooling effect is strongest in boreal forests at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, which make up about 27 percent of total global forest area.

The researchers attribute the cooler temperatures to the fact that protected forests have more vegetation and a more complex structure that creates a buffer against heat. An analysis of forest canopies shows protected areas have higher leaf densities, which means more shade and cooler temperatures that help protect biodiversity near the forest floor.

“The cooling effect is very important for life below the tree canopy near the ground,” said co-author Pieter De Frenne, a climate researcher at the University of Ghent. He added that most forest biodiversity is in that zone, including in temperate, mid-latitude forests.

Oregon State University forest ecologist Matthew Betts said the findings of the study are important but that further research is needed to determine how they hold up in the United States.

“At the moment we don’t have under-canopy data for large tracts of the planet,” he said. “Pieter has done a great job of implementing a network of under-canopy climate stations across Europe, but we don’t have anything like that in North America.”

I’d say unless they’re burned up… say, for example my photo of the Hayman Fire above. I don’t have too many photos because my friends don’t like to hike there.. due to lack of shade. Oh well, I suppose there could be a study of that. I think that was the point of Zach Steele and coauthors in the paper mentioned in posts here and here  last week, that forested lands can lose “forested” old-growth-y habitat due to wildfires, regardless of the level of “protection” unless “protection” involves being  protected from wildfires..

I’m kind of against using satellite data to make Global Pronouncements of What We Need to Do, as an average across the world is meaningless to a piece of land.  A So it amounts to a new class of folks -“climate scientists” telling local people and governments what to do in the name of “climate” .. oh and “biodiversity.” There’s obviously a power and privilege dynamic here with research institutions, scientific journals (wow, they say their conclusions impact the whole planet!), the media, and international ENGO’s who support this kind of thing, apparently uncritically. The voices questioning this tend to be social scientists, continually pointing out what I have just said, but the climate/media/ENGO behemoth rolls on.  Thanks to you social scientists, you have many supporters!

How’s this title for hubris:  Protected areas provide thermal buffer against climate change.

Maybe people from mesic areas don’t have the understanding and experience of shade that those of us from drier areas do. Or perhaps it’s just disciplinary swamping and rediscovery of what we already know by People With Large Datasets.

23 thoughts on “Climate Scientists (Re?)Discover Trees Produce Shade”

  1. European colonizers wiped out the American chestnut and replaced it with fast growing conifers.

    In the West ponderosa pine is still replanted after wildfires even though it sucks billions of gallons from aquifer recharges, needles absorb heat and accelerate snow melt while aspen leaves reflect sunlight in the summer months and hold snowpacks in winter. Insects like the mountain pine beetle and spruce bud worm can help promote drought- and fire-tolerant species like aspen.

    • “European colonizers wiped out the American chestnut and replaced it with fast growing conifers.”

      I can’t make sense of this statement. Yes, European colonizers surely logged chestnut with enthusiasm. In so doing, however, they expanded its position relative to other tree species. Why? Because chestnut sprouts enthusiastically from cut stumps.

      The notion that European colonizers “replaced” chestnut with conifers is equally mystifying. Surely you are not suggesting that European settlers engaged in some sort of wholesale tree planting programs? Of course, they didn’t. Forests were cut for fuel and timbers and to clear land for agriculture. Replanting trees was not part of the settlers’ agenda.

    • Chestnut Blight was the major cause for the decline of chestnuts. That ecological niche was filled by oaks,.
      The blight was a invasive organism so yes in a way the movement of goods did cause the problem.

    • Larry, I understand you don’t like ponderosas. But aspen don’t grow everywhere, so there’s that.
      Actually ponderosa are pretty drought and fire tolerant. We can have and appreciate both.

  2. Sharon, Since you are poking fun of CWP I guess that means this statement is fair game, “Honestly I kind of got a laugh out of this, as plants, animals, insects and so on picked up on this billions of years ago.”

    How long have vascular plants existed on earth…?

    But, I must admit, I struggle with understanding why this study would have been funded. I guess it was to provide a reference of an already well understood concept to promote an agenda. Maybe I’m missing something.

    • Sorry, Mike, that was a good lesson for appears there is controversy over the origins of land plants (and how tall they were so able to shade)
      This one based on molecular clocks says 500 mill. So I was off by 100%! Thanks for pointing this out.
      As to the study being funded, let’s analyze that..
      “Here’s from the acknowledgements This study was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CASEarth (XDA19030401 and XDA19070203). P.D.F. received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (ERC Starting Grant FORMICA 757833).”

      The research proposal sounded plausible. They want to use big data to make big conclusions about the World. Pretty crazy, right? At least it wasn’t our tax dollars..

    • Oh, now I get it . . . sort of like Asian immigrants bringing bottle gourds and dogs into North America circa 10,000-15,000 years ago, along with the various freeloader microorganisms that are associated with these species.

      • Chinese chestnuts have been used for years in the U.S. with the hope of creating blight-resistant American chestnut hybrids, with lackluster results to date. The more promising strategy is transgenic introduction of a small handful of genes into the American chestnut genome followed by introgression of those genes into an otherwise native American chestnut population. The introduced genes (which can come from wheat or other botanical sources) produce an enzyme that degrades oxalic acid, which the blight produces at levels lethal to the American chestnut. Nowadays, it’s dead simple to make transgenic plants; it’s a much harder lift to release them into the wild. The American chestnut recovery project might be one of the early adopters.

        • I get that, Andy. I used to be on the Science Cabinet for the American Chestnut Foundation. TACF. My point was about bringing Chinese Chestnuts into the forest.
          Chinese chestnuts are used in nut production in the eastern and Midwestern US but that’s not for forests.
          On my other favorite topic, these folks support participatory research.

          It hasn’t been a problem that they will overwhelm American Chestnuts with their genes or seedlings escaping because, as you know, American Chestnut is not doing very well. And Chinese trees don’t have the form of forest trees. Yes TACF has a crossbreeding program with Chinese chestnut. I think the backcrosses to American Chestnut ended up being 97.5% American, but that backcross program was intentional. here’s TACF’s strategic plan

          During the time I was on the Science Cabinet, I attended a Park Service meeting in which a number of non-geneticists told us that 97.5 percent was not enough, and we would be introducing Chinese (alien, non-native) genes, which aren’t OK in a Park, even for restoration of an “ecologically important” species. Given the history of the field of genetics, I was a little put off by the racial purity argument, but then I’ve never been good at purity measuring sticks.

          I was originally not a fan of g/e Chestnuts, but I have watched that technology horse race and it appears that the g/e Chestnuts may be the winners if they get out of the starting gate..

          Here’s a TSW post on this and on deregulation..

          Also here’s the “more Byzantine than FS NEPA” process by which APHIS is going to make the decision. First they had comment to define the scope of environmental documents. They decided an EIS is necessary. In 2921, the public submitted more comments on the NOI.

        • Andy, here are two photos I took at a privately owned planting near Asheville, North Carolina in the fall of 2018. Dr. Paul Sisco, who developed the TACF backcross breeding program is standing under a backcross Chestnut tree.

  3. I totally agree with wondering why this needs to be a study. This is only one enigma of many I find in the realm of forestry. I am totally baffled, as another example, why industrial logging is not a factor for causing catastrophic wildfires. By eliminating forest canopy and large, fire resistant trees while increasing more flammable vegetation and allowing the wind to blow through, it would seem this is recipe for catastrophic wildfires. But no, not a factor at all. No mention. So far…

    Regarding trees’ cooling effect, maybe the “study” was a reminder how important shade is in its cooling effect. Not a bad thing even though obvious. But not allowing a factor like logging to be mentioned or evaluated is dangerous to whether or not we are successful in reducing catastrophic wildfires, never mind protecting our forest watersheds and trying to reduce climate change effects.

    • It might interest you to know that in the Sierra Nevada, the Forest Service hasn’t done any clearcutting since 1992, even in salvage projects. Additionally, there is a ban on cutting trees over 30 inches in diameter, except for hazard trees. There is no “industrial logging” on all of those National Forests.

      • Is “industrial logging” different than “commercial logging?” And if so, are you saying there have been no trees coming off of national forests in the Sierra Nevada that been used to make boards, 2x4s or pulp?

        • I think “industrial” is a generic word intended to mean “bad”. Think “industrial” recreation. What does that actually mean? Commercial? How about Juana the outfitter.. is she “industrial”.
          The problem with “commercial” is that it could be anything. 2×4’s today, tomorrow biochar or chips?
          We have beaucoup bucks in Infrastructure IRA and approps going for uses for fuel treatment residuals, which is kind of a conundrum, in my view. If these efforts work, 2″ branches will be commercial..
          It would be easier if we talked about Purpose and Practice as in my post today rather than generics like “commercial” or “industrial”.

          • For the record, I meant to imply that “industrial logging” is not appropriate for today’s challenges with catastrophic wildfires, diminishing forest watersheds in climate change drought, and in maximizing mitigation for climate change effects. The establishment (industry and forestry infrastructure) want to keep pursuing the business as usual template but it will be at our peril. Time is not on our side for this.

        • I was referring to mainly industrial logging on private ownerships which I include both even-aged and uneven-aged methods. This is due to maximizing profits at the expense of ecosystem health or ecosystems benefits for the public trust like catastrophic wildfire resilience, protecting watershed values, and maximizing climate change mitigation.

      • Yes I am aware of the policy for clearcutting on national forests. I use the term industrial logging because it is economics logging verses ecological logging for the health of the forests (or at least less harmful) and not the pocket books. Why has 30 inches been decided for uneven-aged logging? Thirty inches is approximately 60 years of time. What is the time frame for re-entry? I don’t know. Maybe you do.

        I am more familiar with Cal Fire’s jurisdiction of private land ownerships. Industrial logging in this context includes even and uneven-aged logging methods. Because uneven-aged logging allows a bare minimum of stocking that includes losses of large fire resistant trees and several small clearcut areas, I use industrial logging to describe this. Small landowners generally do not use these methods to this extent because usually they live where they log.


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