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Describe and explain the long-term effects of large-scale deforestation on the earth's atmosphere.

Extracts from this document...


Summer Holiday Prep

A2 / Human Biology

Task 1

Describe and explain the long-term effects of large-scale deforestation on the earth’s atmosphere.

In this essay I am going to explain and describe the long-term effects of deforestation on the earths atmosphere. I must include these key points.

  • Sustainable resources
  • Greenhouse gases
  • The Greenhouse effect
  • Erosion of soil
  • Leaching of soil
  • Desertification
  • And diversity of species.

The clearing of tropical forests has been occurring worldwide on a large-scale basis for many centuries. This process, known as deforestation, involves the cutting down, burning, and damaging of forests. The loss of tropical rain forest is more profound than merely destruction of beautiful areas. If the current rate of deforestation continues, the world’s rain forests will vanish within 100 years-causing unknown effects on global climate and eliminating the majority of plant and animal species on the planet.

Why Deforestation Happens

There are many ways and reasons for deforestation. Most of the clearing is done for agricultural purposes-grazing cattle, planting crops. area (typically a few acres) and burn the tree trunks-a process called Slash and Burn agriculture. This process is called subsistence farming. It is continually occurring, as the tropical rain forest soil is actually low in nutrience; this is because the trees and plants use all of the nutrience. This means that the cleared area will only last for one crop (season) and will then be infertile. And the farmer has to move on to another ‘patch. Charities and various organisations are trying to re-educate the subsistence farmers in the rain forest as a way of trying to stop this process from happening. (See diagrams below)



Slash and burn farming, tree cutting, and destructive environmental practices are all linked to the economic plight of the rural population.

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The much smaller region of Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam) lost nearly as much forest per year as the Brazilian Amazon from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, with 4800 square miles per year converted to agriculture or cut for timber.

Deforestation and the Hydrologic Cycle

Tropical deforestation also affects the local climate of an area by reducing the evaporative cooling that takes place from both soil and plant life. As trees and plants are cleared away, the moist canopy of the tropical rain forest quickly diminishes. Recent research suggests that about half of the precipitation that falls in a tropical rain forest is a result of its moist, green canopy. Evaporation and evapotranspiration processes from the trees and plants return large quantities of water to the local atmosphere, promoting the formation of clouds and precipitation. Less evaporation means that more of the Sun’s energy is able to warm the surface and, consequently, the air above, leading to a rise in temperatures.

Deforestation and the Global Carbon Cycle

Deforestation causes an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other trace gases in the atmosphere. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide with each acre of tropical forest storing about 180 metric tons of carbon. When a forest is cut and burned to establish cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as CO2.

The loss of forests has a profound effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being approximately 1.6 billion metric tons per year.

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The deforestation not only ruins the precious rain forest it also contributes to the current greenhouse effect, which is plaguing the planets atmosphere. This ‘greenhouse effect’ basically is the way in which the suns radiation is unable to leave the atmosphere, the major greenhouse gases are Nitrogen (N), Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Water (H2O), these gases are responsible for the major heat change in the atmosphere. In the early 90’s CFC’s were also partially to blame. These have been banned in many countries now. Water is the major problem which we have there is too much condensation which causes clouds this then reflects much of the suns radiation back down to the earths surface. If there was no water in the atmosphere the earths temperature would be –18 degrees centigrade.

Deforestation also affects the land it is taking place on, with no trees the precipitation (rain) is able to fall directly on to the soil, this causes leaching and erosion of the soil and both these mean that the nutrience is deplenished or removed from the soil. Thus meaning that there is not enough nutrience to sustain vegetation. This in turn causes a process called desertification to occur, this is the complete drying out of the soil and thus making it desert like…nothing is able to grow. Therefore the Antarctic can technically be called a desert.

Although deforestation mainly affects plant life it does have a substantial effect on wildlife too. By cutting down trees and plants many species become extinct cause less diversity of species so fewer ‘new animals’ can be breed. This would technically mean that Darwin’s theory of evolution is being compromised by deforestation.

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