New research finds that reforesting Europe would increase rainfall, fighting a drying trend

Trees store carbon dioxide, have a cooling effect in cities, and reduce flood risks.

Rain falls off a roof of a cabin in the woods.
Photo by Anna Atkins on Unsplash
“Plant more trees" is often the first idea that comes to mind when we think about how to prevent further climate change or at least adapt to its impacts. There are good reasons for this.

Multiple studies have shown that as well as trees being a fantastic way to store carbon dioxide, they offer other benefits, such as a cooling effect in cities, the ability to reduce flood risk and boost biodiversity, among other things.

Our new study in Nature Geoscience shows that trees could also affect rainfall patterns.

We used measurements of rainfall across Europe to investigate what effect forests have on rainfall totals. We know that forests mostly increase local and downwind rainfall in the summer and winter, but the magnitude of this effect varies across regions and seasons.

To identify a realistic reforestation strategy we used the global reforestation potential map. In the area we looked at in our research (most of Europe), 14.4% of the land surface was considered suitable for reforestation, an area larger than France.

Map of Europe with green shaded areas

Much of Europe could be reforested (green = areas with realistic reforestation potential) ('Global Reforestation Potential Map' Griscom et al (2017), CC BY-SA)

We then compared the effect of turning all that land into forest to the precipitation changes in a future scenario in which the world faces intermediate levels of climate change, based on current predictions. While the climate scenario projects wetter winters and drier summers, the inclusion of reforestation could enhance European summertime rainfall by an average of 7.6%, potentially offsetting some of the drying that climate change is projected to cause. However, we also found reforestation may exacerbate the increase in winter rainfall.

In the UK and Ireland for example, where around 37% of the land area has the potential for reforestation, we estimate that reforestation on this scale would increase precipitation by an average of 0.74 mm/day (24%) in winter and 0.48 mm/day (19%) during summer.

Several factors potentially contribute to this. Forests typically have a higher surface “roughness" than agricultural land. This creates more turbulence over the trees and slows the movement of heavy clouds causing them to rain over and downwind of the forests. The same is true of urban areas too – increased surface roughness from buildings can amplify the precipitation over cities and downwind of cities. And forests typically evaporate more water than agricultural land, particularly during the summer season, which likely means more rain.

These findings demonstrate the relevance of land management in the assessment of climate change pathways. Many countries are considering how changes to land cover could contribute to their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

For instance the recently published climate change risk assessment from the UK government's Climate Change Committee advisory body highlights that the gap has widened between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation underway. Intervention measures are therefore urgently needed but require careful consideration. The new report points out that we must avoid poor planning being “locked-in".

Reforestation in particular needs careful planning, as trees need decades to grow, and as they interact in such a complex way with multiple aspects of the environment. For example, while we may see increased rainfall from forestation, we may also see decreased runoff and water availability, since trees typically evaporate more water than crops or grass.

The species of tree we plant also needs to be carefully considered – will it be able to cope with higher temperatures? Will the type of tree be resilient to the invasive species and pathogens projected to increase with climate change? If not, then we have wasted our time and money.

Policy makers therefore need to thoroughly and carefully assess any kind of nature-based solution before embarking on a scheme that may provide no long term benefit. It is all about making sure that we are putting the right intervention in the right place, at the right time.The Conversation

Elizabeth Lewis, Lecturer in Computational Hydrology, Newcastle University; Edouard Davin, Senior Scientist, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, and Ronny Meier, PostDoc, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
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  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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