The rainforests have always been called the lungs of our planet, as they trap enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Now, a new study suggests they may also be called the heart of the planet, as they generate the winds that pump the water throughout the Earth.
The rainforests have always been called the lungs of our planet, as they trap enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Now, a new study suggests they may also be called the heart of the planet, as they generate the winds that pump the water throughout the Earth. Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in Russia have come up with a theory that could explain why interiors of forested continents can see as much rain as the coast, and why Australia turned from a forest to a desert.
The premise behind this theory is this:
The water vapour from the coastal forests and the oceans evaporate into droplets and clouds. When the vapour turns to liquid, it takes up less space and drops the local air pressure. According to studies, more water evaporates over the forest than it does over the ocean, and pressure is lower over the forests, so it sucks in the air from the ocean and drives the moisture deeper into the interior of the forest. As the process keeps repeating, it creates steady gusts of wind that can span entire continents, and transport moisture thousands of kilometres.
On the other hand, if coastal forests are cut down, the water and wind move in the opposite direction. In places like the Congo and the Amazon, the same amount of rainfall is seen both on the coast as it is deep in the heart of the land. But in Australia, the coast sees 8 times as much rain as the interior of the continent.
The researchers behind this discovery think this should be treated as a warning to the United States. The recent spike in deforestation across America is putting the country at risk of becoming a desert.
Although there is still much debate about whether Gorshkov and Makarieva’s conclusions are correct, the ‘rainforests as biotic pumps’ theory is gaining momentum. The message is clear: regardless of whether the rainforests are the lungs of the planet, or the heart of the planet, or both, they play an important role in every ecosystem and need to be saved at all costs.