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Congo Basin Deforestation Contributes to Rising Regional Temperatures

Apr 15, 2014 01:39 PM EDT

As global temperatures are expected to rise by 2050, deforestation in the Congo Basin could exacerbate regional temperature extremes by a factor of half, according to new research.

Current models predict that by 2050, Central Africa will be an average of 1.4 degrees Celsius hotter than it is today as a result of global greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation will add 0.7 degrees Celsius to that figure, according to a study by University of Leuven in Belgium.

Deforestation in the Congo Basin is being exacerbated by a surge in population growth and inefficient agricultural practices, and in certain deforestation "hotspots" the resulting temperature increase could be as much as 1.25 C, the researchers report.

Writing in the Journal of Climate, the researchers report their use of an advanced computer model to forecast changes in the Congo Basin.

"The deforestation-induced warming forecasted by the model can be attributed in large part to reduced evaporation," the University of Leuven said in a statement. "Once deforestation has occurred, the solar energy that rainforests would otherwise use to evaporate water accumulates near the Earth's surface, causing the atmosphere to warm."

Lead study author Tom Akkerman said the results of the climate study are far from extreme and point to a need to address the causes of deforestation in the Congo Basin.

Not only does deforestation in this region contribute to the global rise in temperature through CO2 emissions from wood burning, it also has a direct impact on the climate of Central Africa," Akkerman said.

In addition to contributing to climate change, deforestation in the Congo Basin also leads to habitat loss for wildlife, including the mountain gorilla, and soil erosion.

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