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Title:

Forests are Key to Fresh Water

Subtitle:

Date:

2017-12-27

Summary:

December 27, 2017 - Freshwater ​resources are ​critical to ​both human ​civilization ​and natural ​ecosystems, but ​University of British Columbia researchers ​have discovered ​that changes to ​ground ​vegetation can ​have as much of ​an impact on ​global water ​resources as ​climate change. ​

Author:

Patty Wellborn

Publication:

Young Water Leaders

Content:

UBC Okanagan Earth,​ Environmental ​and Geographic ​Sciences ​Professor Adam ​Wei, PhD ​candidate Qiang ​Li and ​researchers ​from the ​Chinese Academy ​of Forestry ​recently ​published a ​study examining ​the impacts of ​how changes in ​forest ​vegetation ​effect water ​supplies. Using ​several decades ​worth of data, ​their work ​examined how ​water resources ​are responsive ​to vegetation ​ground cover ​and climate ​change.

UBC Okanagan Earth,​ Environmental ​and Geographic ​Sciences ​Professor Adam ​Wei, PhD ​candidate Qiang ​Li and ​researchers ​from the ​Chinese Academy ​of Forestry ​recently ​published a ​study examining ​the impacts of ​how changes in ​forest ​vegetation ​effect water ​supplies. Using ​several decades ​worth of data, ​their work ​examined how ​water resources ​are responsive ​to vegetation ​ground cover ​and climate ​change. ​

“As we ​urbanize land ​and continue to ​convert forests ​for other uses, ​our water ​regimes change,​” says ​Wei. “We ​end up with the ​systems we do ​not design for, ​and entire ​watersheds are ​being affected.​” ​

Forested ​areas are ​critically ​important water ​resources, ​explains Li. ​But as land is ​developed or ​the green ​vegetation is ​destroyed, ​watersheds are ​irreversibly ​damaged. ​

“We ​need to ​recognize the ​importance of ​vegetation,​” says Li.​ “Forest ​cover is an ​important ​element and we ​need to keep ​this in mind ​for the future. ​Scientists talk ​about how ​climate change ​affects water ​when they ​measure global ​warming. ​We’re ​suggesting they ​also need to ​keep an eye on ​forest ​vegetation. ​It’s a ​key indicator ​of the health ​of our water ​resources.​” ​

Forests cover ​more than 30 ​per cent of the ​world’s ​land surface ​and Li says ​about 21 per ​cent of the ​global ​population ​directly ​depends on ​these ​catchments for ​their water ​supply. Using ​computer ​modelling, the ​researchers ​examined ​historical data ​from 2000 to ​2011. They ​looked at ​changes in land ​vegetation and ​annual water ​yield in boreal ​and tropical ​forests in ​locations such ​as British ​Columbia, ​Canada, Russia, ​Brazil, Finland ​and the ​Democratic ​Republic of the ​Congo. Along ​with development,​ intensive ​forest logging, ​fire, and ​insect ​infestation ​were reasons ​for forest and ​ground ​vegetation loss.​

“Our ​simulations ​show that the ​average global ​alteration in ​annual water ​flow due to ​vegetation ​change is as ​high as 31 per ​cent. Our ​results also ​show that on ​average, in 51 ​per cent of the ​study area, ​vegetation ​change and ​climate change ​operate ​together and ​can lead to ​either fewer ​water resources,​ meaning higher ​chances of ​drought, or an ​increase in ​water supply ​and higher ​chances of ​devastating ​floods.” ​

These ​findings have ​far-reaching ​implications ​for assessing ​and managing ​future global ​water resources,​ says Wei. ​

“Our ​watersheds and ​landscapes are ​experiencing ​significant ​pressures from ​vegetation or ​land cover ​change and ​climate change,​” he adds.​ “Because ​vegetation ​change and ​climate change ​play a similar ​role in water ​resources ​change, ​ignoring either ​one will likely ​lead to an ​incomplete ​understanding ​and ineffective ​management of ​our future ​water resources,​ particularly ​for the regions ​where intensive ​forest change ​occurs.” ​

Future water ​resource ​assessment must,​ he says, ​consider both ​climate and ​vegetation or ​land cover ​change, and our ​management ​paradigm should ​be shifted from ​“adapting ​and mitigating ​climate change ​impacts” ​to “​managing both ​climate and ​land cover ​change together.​” ​

This research ​was recently ​published ​in ​ Global Change Biology and was ​partially ​funded by ​grants from the ​Natural ​Sciences and ​Engineering ​Research ​Council of ​Canada, Research ​Program for ​Public-welfare ​Forestry and ​the National ​Natural Science ​Foundation of ​China.

UBC ​researchers (​from left to ​right) Abby ​Wang, Professor ​Adam Wei, ​Krysta Giles-​Hansen and ​Qiang Li ​discuss the ​role forest ​vegetation ​plays while ​monitoring ​water resources.​

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