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Friday, June 17, 2011

Deforestation

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Deforestation


Introduction


Deforestation is the removal of trees and other plants from forest areas more quickly than they can be replanted or regenerated naturally. It is a problem because of the parts that the trees have to play in stabilising the climate, atmospheric composition and soil structure.


Reasons for Deforestation


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There is a large variety of reasons for why people choose to clear forests


· Agricultural purposes � Grazing cattle or planting crops. Poor farmers in developing countries chop down a small area of trees and burn them, which provide nutrients for the soil (know as the ‘Slash-and-Burn’ technique). This supply is quickly exhausted so the farmers move on to a fresh area, and the cycle starts again. This occurs on a much larger scale for intensive or modern agriculture e.g. large cattle pastures often replace rain forest to grow beef .


· Commercial logging � the cutting down of trees for sale as timber or pulp. In the developed world, there are increasing demands for hardwoods such as mahogany and ebony. The rate at which trees are felled is increasing to meet these demands. People in third world countries need the timber for firewood, as it’s practically the only source of fuel available to people living there. The heavy machinery used (e.g. bulldozers) is just as damaging to a forest overall as the chainsaws are to individual trees


· Construction � of towns or dams, which flood large areas. People who live in shanty towns in areas like Brazil are being encouraged to move to rural areas, so more land has to be cleared to accommodate these people.


· Roads � they’re built through the forest to allow easier access to underground resources like iron and aluminium. Trees also have to be removed to mine these resources.


Effects of Deforestation


· The Greenhouse Effect � During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is taken in and oxygen is given out. Deforestation removes the carbon ‘sinks’, and coupled with the carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase. The carbon dioxide forms a blanket around the earth and traps heat from solar radiation. This is called the greenhouse effect, and causes the average temperature of the earth to rise. If this continues, the polar ice caps could melt and cause flooding.


· Soil Erosion � The trees and shrubs in a forest cover the ground and protect the soil from the rain. Tree leaves intercept the rain fall, and shrubs and leaf litter protects the soil from water dripping off the leaves. With this protection removed, the rain falls directly onto the bare soil and erodes it. The rain also leaches the soil of important nutrients, making it less fertile.


· Disruption of the Hydrological Cycle � Deforestation can effect the local climate of an area by reducing the evaporative cooling that takes place from the soil and plants. Because the amount of evapotranspiration has been reduced, the formation of clouds and therefore precipitation is also reduced. This threatens the existence of the remaining plants in the forest. Deforestation can also cause flooding. In forested areas, flood water is absorbed into the soil and taken up by the tree roots. The water is then transpired through aerial parts of the plant and into the atmosphere, where it forms clouds. In deforested areas, the flood water runs across the area and is not stopped by vegetation. The top layer of soil is eroded in this process and gets transported into rivers where it causes the level of silt to rise. This rise in the river level causes floods to occur more frequently. Less evaporation also means that more of the sun’s energy is used to warm the surface and consequently the air above, leading to a rise in temperatures.


· Reduction in Biodiversity � Tropical rainforests consist of around half of the total amount of species of plants and animals on Earth. Without the rainforest as a habitat for these organisms, they will not be able to survive. Biologists are worried that a vast number of species will become extinct before they can be catalogued and examined. There are many species there that have provided us with cures for illnesses, and with the rainforests being destroyed, many other cures could be lost. The extinction of various species will also disrupt the food web they are in, possibly leading to the extinction of species which depended on them for survival.


· Spreading of Disease � the mosquito, anopheles darlingi, which spreads malaria parasites, breeds in pools of water that are created in deforested land and on eroded land. Deforestation therefore favours a population explosion of this species.


After Deforestation


What happens after a forest is cut is very important in the regeneration of that forest.


In a tropical rain forest, nearly all the life-sustaining nutrients are found in the plants and trees and not in the ground, like northern or temperate forests. When the plants and trees are cut down for agricultural purposes for the poor people, the tree trunks are usually burnt to release nutrients into the soil. Rain leaches the soil, and after around three years, the ground is no longer capable of supporting crops. The farmers will abandon this area and it will be left to grow back to a rainforest. As the soil is very low in nutrient content, the forest will grow back very slowly. It may take up to fifty years to grow back.


Shade agriculture, where a lot of the original forest trees are left to provide shade for shade-loving crops e.g. coffee and chocolate. When this type of farm is abandoned, the forest grows back very quickly (in around twenty years), as most of it was left unharmed in the first place.


Intensive agricultural systems use a lot of pesticides and fertilisers. The chemicals kill a lot of living organisms in the area and weaken the ecosystem’s health. Plantations that use irrigation systems change the water balance of the land. After the abandonment of this kind of system, it can take many centuries for a forest to re-grow.


Solutions to Deforestation


· Reforesting � this is especially popular in Vietnam, where most of their forests were destroyed during the war. Now, every pupil has to plant a tree and look after it.


· Bans � generally, people want a ban on the logging of ‘ancient-growth’ forests and possibly compensating companies for not logging certain areas.


· Sustainable Forests � using forest and the animals and plants that live in them in ways that do not permanently damage them. This could mean taking only as much timber or other products as the forests can support so that they will continue to be productive in future years.


· Recycling � an option for the wealthier countries in the world to cut down on their consumption of forest products in general.


· Protected Areas � environmental organisations like WWF and Friend of the Earth can offer legal protection for certain areas by campaigning and informing governments over the necessity to protect a proportion of the world forests from destruction.


· Produce � an increase in demand for products which have their origin in tropical rainforests e.g. body creams, bath oils, sweets, fruits and nuts, would make the forests more secure, as a large number of trees are needed to produce a large yield.


Conclusion


Deforestation is a threat to life worldwide. It has an effect on the global climate and causes the extinction of thousands of species annually. Simple solutions are not the answer as many factors have to be thought of. Deforestation mainly occurs in LEDC’s, where they need the money that the products of deforestation earn them. Long term solutions would have to be thought of to offer the countries an economically viable alternative, before the ecological loss increases.





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