Century Of Tree Planting Has Delayed The Warming Effects In The Eastern US, Study Shows


A recent study sheds light on the significant impact of reforestation efforts in the American East and Southeast over the past century, revealing how these initiatives have played a crucial role in maintaining cooler temperatures in the region.

This pioneering research highlights the potential benefits of accelerated reforestation witnessed globally in the last 25 years, suggesting promising outcomes for the latter half of the 21st century.

Utilizing various analytical techniques and leveraging satellite imagery along with temperature data from weather stations, the study clarifies that forests in the eastern United States contribute to cooling the land surface by an average of 1.8 to 3.6°F annually compared to neighboring grasslands and croplands.

Notably, this cooling effect is most pronounced during the summer months, with temperatures dropping by as much as 3.6 to 9°F. Moreover, the study reveals a correlation between the age of the forest and the extent of cooling, with younger forests, particularly those between 20 and 40 years old, exhibiting the most significant cooling effect.

“The reforestation has been remarkable and we have shown this has translated into the surrounding air temperature,” Mallory Barnes, an environmental scientist at Indiana University who led the research, told The Guardian.

“Moving forward, we need to think about tree planting not just as a way to absorb carbon dioxide but also the cooling effects in adapting for climate change, to help cities be resilient against these very hot temperatures.”

The influence of reforestation extends beyond the land surface, impacting the near-ground level air temperatures.

The study highlights a stepwise reduction in heat associated with decrease in near-surface air temperatures, underscoring the intricate relationship between forest cover and atmospheric conditions.

The authors write, “Analyses of historical land cover and air temperature trends showed that the cooling benefits of reforestation extend across the landscape.”

“Locations surrounded by reforestation were up to 1.8°F cooler than neighboring locations that did not undergo land cover change, and areas dominated by regrowing forests were associated with cooling temperature trends in much of the Eastern United States,” they add.

Historically, forest cover loss in states like the Carolinas and Mississippi halted by the 1930s, coinciding with increased urbanization and the abandonment of marginal agricultural lands by European settlers descendants. Subsequent large-scale reforestation efforts, spearheaded by initiatives such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, are believed to have contributed to the observed lower average temperatures.

However, the study acknowledges that additional factors, such as advancements in crop irrigation techniques and the proliferation of airborne pollutants that attenuate incoming sunlight, may have also played a role in temperature moderation over time.


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