Yale study shows how conversion of forests to croplands triggered atmospheric change

9 September 2014

The conversion of forests into cropland worldwide has triggered an atmospheric change that, while seldom considered in climate models, has had a net cooling effect on global temperatures, according to a new Yale study.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Professor Nadine Unger of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) reports that large-scale forest losses during the last 150 years have reduced global emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), which control the atmospheric distribution of many short-lived climate pollutants, such as tropospheric ozone, methane, and aerosol particles.

Using sophisticated climate modeling, Unger calculated that a 30-percent decline in BVOC emissions between 1850 and 2000, largely through the conversion of forests to cropland, produced a net global cooling of about 0.1 degrees Celsius. During the same period, the global climate warmed by about 0.6 degrees Celsius, mostly due to increases in fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions.

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