A warmer planet means a wetter rainforest in Indonesia, according to a recent study published in the science journal Nature Climate Change. The study, conducted by a team of researchers from University of California, Irvine, discovered that a rise in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere—a consequence of global warming—is causing plants to basically "breathe" less, which will have a dramatic effect on global weather patterns.
What's happening here is these tiny openings on the underside of a plant's leaves aren't opening as much as they used to back when the planet had less CO2 in the air. This is causing the plants to release less water vapor and take in less CO2, which together means the air above the forests is hotter and less humid.
This rise in temperature is pulling more rain clouds into the sky above the forests, which means wetter forests in the future for Indonesia and parts of Africa. It also means a drier Amazon, as rains that would've fallen there flow across the globe to tropical Africa and Southeast Asia.
"You'll get a stronger contrast in heating over the islands compared to the nearby ocean, and so it will enhance a natural ocean-land breeze, pulling in more moisture from these neighboring ocean systems to increase rainfall over the forests," explained James Randerson, the university's Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone chair in the Earth system science department and one of the authors of the study.
Now, you might be thinking, "who cares about more rain falling on the rainforest? It's already got 'rain' right there in the name," but remember that these kinds of changes in the weather can have deep and lasting impacts on the plants, animals, and, yes, people who call the forests home. Indonesia's rainforests are among the most-biodiverse places on Earth, and aside from all those animals as many as 65 million people also live in our forests, while another 95 million depend on them to live.
And for the rest of us, climate change isn't cutting us any slack either. The Earth is getting hotter, hot enough to melt car tires in Australia, and here in Indonesia that means more people using more air conditioners. There were already some 40 million air conditioners in Indonesia by 2012, according to industry figures. And the more we use them, the worse it's going to get. A different study, this one by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that excessive AC use will create so much more pollution that it will actually be responsible for thousands of deaths in the eastern part of the United States alone.
"What we found is that air pollution will get worse," said David Abel, the lead author of the report and a UW-Madison graduate student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies' Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment. "There are consequences for adapting to future climate change."
But we're not totally screwed. Scientists at Louisiana State University recently uncovered new data about the role mangrove forests have in reducing the amount of carbon in the air. Mangroves, which grow along coastal areas in salt water and were once abundant in Indonesia, can trap carbon from the air in what scientists call "blue carbon" stores, effectively helping cool the planet. The study discovered that, in some regions, the amount of blue carbon in mangrove forests was under-estimated by as much as 50 percent.
So while our rainforests are, sort of, holding their breath, our mangroves might help the planet out. As long as we can stop cutting them down. Indonesia has lost as much as 40 percent of its mangrove cover since the 1980s. It's dangerous because mangroves are far more effective carbon traps than rainforests, absorbing four-to-five times the carbon as their land-locked cousins. These trees actually make the planet cooler, while our ACs are actually making the place worse. Think about that the next time you feel a need to crank the AC to 16 degrees.