Ecosystems keep us cool

Our planet is the home of six billion people. There are other life forms, and most of us acknowledge their importance but we humans usually see the planet as our home, our mother earth a place created to support us and our descendants.

We have little compunction about changing those parts of the planet that are inconvenient to us. We do not care terribly if we inadvertently irreparably change parts of our planet because there seems plenty of it. We are ungrateful guests.

The planet feeds us and shelters us. It cares for us as a long parent and we, foolish children, often amuse ourselves by biting the hand that feeds us until it feeds us no more. No matter, we say tell ourselves as we clear a forest or slaughter the buffalo there are plenty more where they came from.

Our planet has many ecosystems. They provide us with rich diversity of life and habitat and humanity is to be found in most of them or close to most ecosystems. It is helpful to have many different ecosystems; we can get mahogany, teak and aspirin from tropical rain forests, and grow wheat in the temperate plains, or rice in the monsoon lands. We can eat fish from rivers lakes and seas, and this variety improves our lives.

The climate of the planet provides the life force that the ecosystems need, like blood in a body. The climate regulates temperature as well as providing winds for pollination and a food chain much of which humanity now controls.

But ecosystems do more than provide an interesting and useful variety for us and the climate does not regulate the temperature of the planet by itself, but in partnership with ecosystems.

All ecosystems degrade solar energy, keeping the climate in balance. The more mature the ecosystem, the more solar energy that ecosystem degrades. If ecosystems did not degrade solar energy, and in particular if rich and diverse ecosystems did not exist, our planet would be much hotter.

A rich diverse mix of complex ecology degrades more heat than simpler systems. You will find that rain forests, with their complex life mixes are cooler than deserts or grasslands because they degrade much more solar energy. The most mature ecosystems absorb the most amount of solar radiation. Some of the oldest forests in the world are those large forests of firs in the Northern Hemisphere and these degrade more heat than any other ecosystem by absorbing heat.

This absorption is called the exergy of an ecosystem. During a thermodynamic event – such as the sun shining on a forest – energy is transferred from the sun’s radiation through force to bring the ecosystem into equilibrium with its heat reservoir, which absorbs and thus degrades the heat.

In practical terms what does this mean? Every time humanity clears a mature forest to plant palm trees for oil or grass for cattle it makes the planet a little warmer because the planet cannot degrade the heat that the land received as well as it did before.

Clearly we humans are ungrateful guests.

5 Responses

  1. Sorry, but I see things quite differently:

    Man has learned to control forest fires and there are more trees living in North America today than there were when Columbus arrived.

    Jungles, or “rain forests” are very poor sequestors of carbon dioxide as their trees are very slow growing hardwoods. As a result, jungle soils are poor in quality. American soft white pines grow two to four time faster, but only 1/12th as fast as maize which produces 12 to 60 times as much oxygen and captures as much CO2 while feeding thousands of people. The 20 feet deep, rich soil of our corn belt is a product of 10,000 years of prairie grassland growth. We continue the process by growing corn and wheat while plowing the stover under to make more soil

    Man is truly a boon to nature; long may man continue to make Earth a better place.

    • Adrian

      You misunderstand several points:-

      1. Mature rain forests have already sequestrated huge amounts of carbon when they reach maturity; at that stage they sequestrate (on a year by year basis) very little additional carbon 2. As soon as you cut down a tropical rain forest or a coniferous mature forest you release huge amounts of the carbon dioxide sequestrated into the atmosphere.This occurs not just from burning the trees/undergrowth but also by disturbing the soil with ploughing. 3. When you cut down a mature forest and replace it with grass for cattle or palm trees for oil the thermodynamic are such that the land is now warmer than before because the mature forest was very good at processing (dispersing) heart.

      These are three separate problems of cutting down mature forests.

      I wish humanity was a boon to nature; no. @dam is right. Humanity competes with other life forms and viciously disposes of any that do not suit it, and hunts or fishes others to the point of extermination and changes the environment that other life needs in a way that makes it impossible for other life to adapt to the new environment.

      Regards

      Robert

  2. Not being a man of science or any great knowledge on such matters; it appears to me that there are 2 definite camps with regards to global warming.

    1 camp suggesting that humans are blighting the planet and advancing the global warming.

    Whilst camp 2 suggest that global warming is a natural cyclic phenomenon that humans have little or no effect on.

    Both camps may have a point, but it seems crazy to me to remove forests to replace them with deserts; which I believe is what happened in Ethiopia. Deforestation must be performed in a controlled manner, humans are guilty of taking a very short term view; with profit in mind. Sustainability is where we need to be.

    The subject of carbon sequestering is really interesting, I liked the info on your website Adrian, it puts a compelling case for more sequestration. I’m sure if the world puts its minds together we could work out a balanced and sustainable plan for the long term health of our ecosystems.

    One thing that I do know is that the human race must do more to protect the other species on this planet, we have an obligation to do this. By this I mean we have destroyed the homes of many species and damaged ecosystems by our selfish actions. Soon this selfish attitude will become our undoing and our species will fade into extinction!

    Respect and Peace!
    @dam

  3. Adrian, I understand you are passionate and far more knowledgeable than myself on matters of science and nature. But to suggest man is a boon to nature seems a mute and illogical point, how humans are beneficial to nature is beyond my grasp sir.

    Sure we understand how to manipulate nature to our benefit in the short term, but without humans nature would have a field day! lol. The oil spill in the gulf being just one case in point and surely it goes no way to making the earth a better place.

    Respect and Peace!
    @dam

  4. An American soft pine forest may grow much faster than one in Brazil, but they have no where near the divercity as a rain forest does upon them, other plant species included, its life which is of real interests to the mother not speed of growth, that is what she has made possible because of Co2.

    When the very first explorers landed on the new world the forests were all natural and huge, possibly many times bigger than they are today, longevity makes up for lack of ability, something we intend to take away from nature in general by cutting everything down before it has had a chance to breath life and absorb/inject the opposite gasses.

    Three hundred years or so later, those trees had been burned down by the natives which now hunted buffalo upon horseback which the first visitors left behind, upon huge grass plains, instead of inside the forests which bufallo were predominantly to be found, safe from their hunters.

    What is it that a famous Indian cheif said once in the 1850’s, when we have cut down the last tree and have poisoned the last river, only then will we realise we cannot eat money, and funny money at that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: