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Tropical deforestation and global warming

Late last year, Frdric Achard and colleagues published a controversial article in which they contended that earlier estimates of worldwide tropical deforestation and atmospheric carbon emissions were too high. In the February 14 issue of Science, Philip Fearnside from the National Institute for Amazonian Research in Brazil, and William Laurance from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama argue that the Achard study contains serious flaws rendering its conclusions about greenhouse gases unreliable.

The article in question ("Determination of deforestation rates of the world's humid tropical forests", Science, vol. 297, pages 999-1002), which received extensive press coverage, asserted that only about 0.6 to 1.0 billion tons of greenhouse gases (most carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide) were being produced by the razing and felling of tropical forests each year. This estimate is considerably lower than those of earlier studies, which estimated up to 2.4 billion tons annually.

Fearnside and Laurance list seven serious errors or limitations of the Achard study, which, they say, collectively lead to a major underestimate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the errors they identify is that the Achard team failed to include drier tropical forests--which are also being rapidly cleared and burned--in their estimate. Other concerns include underestimating the amount of biomass--and hence the amount of carbon--contained in tropical forests. The study assumes that regenerating forests on abandoned lands will re-absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon. In fact, such forests are often re-cleared after a few years. The study also fails to consider the effects of important greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are also produced by deforestation.

Fearnside and Laurance further assert that the effects on global warming of selective logging, habitat fragmentation, and other types of forest degradation are not inclu
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Contact: Dr. Bill Laurance
laurancew@tivoli.si.edu
011-507-314-9206
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
13-Feb-2003


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