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QUESTION:

Why does burning of tropical rainforest lead to global warming but burning an equivalent amount (mass) of corn stalks does not?

ANSWER :

Global Warming Potential (GWP), which measures the total impact of adding a greenhouse gas unit to the atmosphere. Two things are needed to determine the extent of global warming in years to come. First, the estimates of future greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere need to be taken into account, and secondly a model of the global climate is also an essential research tool.

Carbon dioxide, methane, CFCs, and nitrous oxides are the main gases that have significant effects on the atmosphere. Atmospheric lifetime is the most important characteristic in determining the effect of any gas, because gases with longer lifetimes constantly contribute to radiative forcing. For example, carbon dioxide has a high GWP due to its long lifetime in the atmosphere and high volume added annually to the atmosphere. The radiative forcing of carbon dioxide is low, but its atmospheric lifetime is the key factor in its high GWP value.

Four situations have been considered in an effort to determine possible greenhouse gas emissions. Every situation is based on assumptions. These scenarios will help scientists determine the best plans of action to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The first is nicknamed the "business as usual" policy. Under this policy, all nations would continue their current practices of producing inefficient automobiles, accelerated deforestation, and the like. The second scenario aims to reduce emissions in the long run. Lower carbon fuels would conserve energy. Also, controls for carbon monoxide would be implemented and deforestation reversed.

The third policy would see a greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, although at a more drastic change in society's conduct. Renewable and nuclear energy would eventually become commonplace and CFCs would be phased out. The last scenario is the strictest. Renewable and nuclear energy would quickly become routine. Developed countries would have stabilized emissions, although still increasing.

Scientists have studied these four scenarios. Amounts of greenhouse gas emissions have been estimated for each decade until 2100. Their findings report that Scenarios A and B don't show stabilization of greenhouse gases while Scenarios C and D do approach stabilization.

The discussion dialogue for this unit topic contains several interesting topics of relative interest to this section. A question was introduced asking "what were the effects of the burning of biomass." Several good responses were given explaining that this topic is currently being researched as an alternative source of energy although the burning of biomass releases a lot of C02. Another posting introduced the topic of nuclear energy as an alternative for the burning of fossil fuels and asked others to research this idea and possibly even introduce it as a section in the class. Possibly the most popular posting of the unit was the one that involved solar wind as an alternative energy source in modern as well as developing nations. This question sparked several interesting points. First and foremost was the almighty problem of money, "can developing nations really afford these for every town." Other responses agreed that this project would have to be on that of a global scale to produce results. This discussion topic since it was the last in the unit was rather lengthy compared to the others so we summarized some of the more popular postings.

In response to the problem to ponder, "Why does burning of tropical rainforest lead to global warming but burning an equivalent amount (mass) of corn stocks does not." Tropical rainforests when compared to Agricultural lands are a huge sink for carbon storage. The rainforest have substantially more carbon in them along with much more biomass, detritus and a longer turnover time. The amount of carbon in the original system is correlated to the amount that is put in the atmosphere when it is burned. The effect when these trees are burned and the land is scorched the amount of CO2 released into is much more than burning of annual crops such as corn.
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