Storing carbon in forests is a leading land-based strategy to curb anthropogenic climate change, but its planetary cooling effect is opposed by warming from low albedo. Using detailed geospatial data from Earth-observing satellites and the national forest inventory, we quantify the net climate effect of losing forest across the conterminous United States. We find that forest loss in the intermountain and Rocky Mountain West causes net planetary cooling but losses east of the Mississippi River and in Pacific Coast states tend toward net warming. Actual U.S. forest conversions from 1986 to 2000 cause net cooling for a decade but then transition to a large net warming over a century. Avoiding these forest conversions could have yielded a 100-year average annual global cooling of 0.00088°C. This would offset 17% of the 100-year climate warming effect from a single year of U.S. fossil fuel emissions, underscoring the scale of the mitigation challenge.
Supporting data is also available as supplementary download.
Williams, Christopher A.; Gu, Huan; and Jiao, Tong, "Climate impacts of U.S. forest loss span net warming to net cooling" (2021). Geography. 866.
Climate impacts of U.S. forest loss - Supporting Materials
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