Forests are more than the planet's lungs – they also drive winds, argues Russian physicist

If proven, the biotic pump theory could explain why the remote interiors of forested continents receive as much rain as the coasts.


Forests are often referred to as the Earth’s lungs. A Russian nuclear physicist has recently suggested that their function involves something more. The largest expanse of trees on Earth – Russia’s boreal forests – are biotic pumps that regulate the climate of northern Asia, according to Anastassia Makarieva, of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (PNPI).

The biotic pump theory, according to an earlier Mongabay report, says that forests are the driving force behind precipitation over land masses. The report quotes the scientists studying the theory as saying, "The biotic pump is a mechanism in which natural forests create and control ocean-to-land winds, bringing moisture to all terrestrial life."

Further, they add that condensation from forests, and not temperature differences that drive winds which bring precipitation over land.

 Forests are more than the planets lungs – they also drive winds, argues Russian physicist

Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth, physicist Makievera says, arguing that forest are more than just the planet's lungs.

In an interview with Science magazine, Makarieva shares her view that the water vapor exhaled by trees in vast boreal forests drive winds across the continent, taking moist air from Europe, through Siberia, and onward into Mongolia and China. These winds deliver rains keeping the giant rivers of eastern Siberia flowing, as well as water China’s northern plain.

Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth, according to Makarieva. They recycle vast amounts of moisture into the air, during which, they also whip up winds that pump water around the world.

The theory proposed by Makarieva lays emphasis on two things – forests as rainmakers and biotic pumps. The first idea has got support from water resource managers in a world seeing progressively worsening deforestation scenarios, Science reported, while the second one is controversial.

The biotic pump theory, for now, is backed by a small coterie of colleagues in addition to Makarieva and her team. However, many climate modelers have dismissed the idea completely, saying its effects are negligible.

The interesting part about biotic pump is that, if it proves to be correct, it could help explain why, despite being at a distance from the oceans, the remote interiors of forested continents receive as much rain as the coasts.

"All I have learned so far suggests to me that the biotic pump is correct. Even if we thought the theory had only a small chance of being true, it would be profoundly important to know one way or the other,” says Douglas Sheil, a forest ecologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.


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