Forests play a big role in reducing the effects of the greenhouse gas emissions that humans are pumping into the atmosphere, because of trees' ability to absorb and store carbon. But even as they help to slow climate change, they've been punished by it.
In a disturbing new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Austrian scientists say that forests increasingly are endangered by problems such as massive wildfires, violent winds and outbreaks of destructive pests, which are intensifying as the result of climate change. While the study focused upon Europe, the same problems also threaten forests in North America and elsewhere.
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The authors write that the severity of large wildfires across the planet has increased over the past decade. A 2014 study published in Geophysical Research Letters reported that in the western United States, the number of big fires over 1,000 acres in size and the total amount of forest consumed by them has been increasing steadily over the past 30 years. According to a research survey published by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in 2013, the intensity of winter wind storms in northwestern Europe has increased over the past 60 years.
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Another surging menace to trees comes from bark beetles. Outbreaks of the invasive Asian insects have reached "unprecedented levels" on both sides of the Atlantic, they say. In North America, the beetles already have destroyed millions of acres of forest over the past 12 years, and warming temperatures are allowing the beetles to spread to northern areas where they would not have been able to live in the past, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Climate Change Resource Center website.
The latest bad news for forests comes after a 2013 study by Dutch scientists that found that European forests may be reaching their "carbon saturation point," and are absorbing less carbon dioxide than they have in the past.