About the event
Dr. Anastassia Makarieva, Researcher, Theoretical Physics Division, Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute
Along with the accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, the loss of primary forests and other natural ecosystems is a major disruption of the Earth’s system and is causing global concern. Quantifying planetary warming from carbon emissions, global climate models highlight natural forests’ high carbon storage potential supporting conservation policies. However, some model outcomes effectively deprioritize conservation of boreal and temperate forests by suggesting that increased albedo upon deforestation could cool the planet. A potential conflict of global cooling vs. regional forest conservation could harm environmental policies. Here we present theoretical and observational evidence to demonstrate that, compared to the carbon-related warming, modeling skills for assessing climatic impacts of deforestation is low. We argue that estimates for deforestation-induced global cooling result from the models’ limited capacity to account for the global effect of cooling from evapotranspiration of intact forests. Specifically, transpiration of trees can change the greenhouse effect via small modifications of the vertical temperature profile. However, due to their convective parameterization (which postulates a certain critical temperature profile), global climate models do not properly capture this effect. This may lead to an underestimation of warming from the loss of forest evapotranspiration in both high and low latitudes. As a result, conclusions about deforestation-induced global cooling are not robust and could result in action that immediately worsened global warming. To avoid deepening the environmental crisis, these conclusions should not inform policies of vegetation cover management, especially as studies from multiple fields are accumulating that better quantify the stabilizing impact of natural ecosystems evolved to maintain environmental homeostasis. Given the critical state and our limited understanding of both climate and ecosystems, an optimal policy with immediate benefits would be a global moratorium on the exploitation of all natural forests.
Anastassia Makarieva graduated from Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, Faculty of Physics and Mechanics, in 1996 and obtained her PhD in atmospheric physics from St. Petersburg State University in 2000. Since 1996, she has been working in the Theoretical Physics Division of Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute investigating the life-environment interactions in the framework of the biotic regulation theory founded by Prof. Victor Gorshkov. In co-authorship with V.G. Gorshkov, Anastassia formulated the concept of the biotic pump of atmospheric moisture highlighting key ecological feedbacks on atmospheric moisture transport (2007) and, in cooperation with an international team of colleagues, demonstrated the existence of life’s metabolic optimum (broadly universal rate of energy consumption across life’s kingdoms) (2008). Combining theoretical work with field observations, Anastassia spent over sixty months doing forest research in the Russian wilderness. Her current research interests focus on deepening the physical understanding of ecosystem feedbacks on the water cycle and moisture transport. Currently Anastassia is also a research fellow in the Institute for Advanced Study, Technical University of Munich, Germany.