A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters has shown that deforestation prior to 1850 is still affecting our atmosphere today.
“The relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide emitted many centuries ago continue to affect atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and our climate today, though only to a relatively small extent,” says co-author Julia Pongratz with the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in a press release.
The findings recognise that decaying vegetation releases carbon into the atmosphere over long periods of time. Carbon also has the capacity to stay in the atmosphere for several centuries before being absorbed by the ocean or forests. This means, a portion of carbon from forests that were felled in the 19th Century and before still lingers in our atmosphere today.
Industrialisation led to large amounts of fossil fuels being burned and therefore carbon being emitted but clearing forests and other wild areas for agricultural purposes, prior to industrialisation, has also contributed to atmospheric carbon dioxide.
According to the authors, this study on carbon emitted prior to the Industrial Revolution provides new insights into climate change today. Using modelling, Pongratz and Caldeira determined that accounting for pre-industrial emissions shifts attribution of global temperature from industrialized nations to developing nations by up to 2 to 3%.
Reference: Julia Pongratz and Ken Caldeira. Attribution of atmospheric CO2 and temperature increases to regions: importance of preindustrial land use change. Environmental Research Letters. 2012. 7 034001. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034001.