From the gently sloping pristine forests of Uganda to the mountainous tropical forests of Cuba to the towering evergreen forests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the definition of forests as “large areas covered chiefly with trees,” does nothing to capture their spectacular diversity.

Short, tall, dry, wet, no two forests are quite the same. But there are a few things all forests have in common, and these characteristics are at the core of why forests are so prevalent in talks about combating global climate change.

Trees store carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gasses contributing to the warming of our planet. Trees take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, then use it to build new stems, leaves, and roots. This process stores carbon dioxide for long periods of time. Studies have shown that older trees store more carbon than younger trees, making old-growth forests a crucial resource to stabilizing the global climate.

Additionally, trees fight erosion, keep the ground below their branches cool, and provide homes for an estimated eighty percent of the world’s terrestrial plant and animal species. From medicine to food supply to climate regulation, forests are an essential, irreplaceable resource.

According to the World Bank, forests currently cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area. But deforestation from disturbances, such as fire, development, or agriculture is removing large areas of forest, and it’s happening at an unprecedented rate.

Last year alone, the tropics lost 30 million acres of tree cover—8.8 million of which were old-growth forest, equaling an area the size of Belgium. Once these forests are gone, the food, habitat, carbon storage, and every other ecosystem service they provide is destroyed, and there’s no guarantee that simply planting more trees will bring those functions back.

While forests have a lot in common, there is no one solution to save them. Each forest exists in a unique context of community, politics, and environmental conditions. Some forests hover on the edge of destruction. And that’s where Earthwatch comes in.


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