A recent study by researchers at Lund University and Stanford University has found that semi-arid zones such as savannahs are extremely valuable in reducing carbon in the air, possibly even more than rainforests. The need to keep rainforests alive and well is widely known, and until recently, they’ve been given most of the credit for reducing carbon emissions caused by human activity. In fact, since the 1960s land ecosystems have absorbed about one third of the carbon dioxide created by humans.
This happens because plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Because rainforests have so much growth, they’ve generally been given the credit. However, rainforests have very stable growth patterns, and generally speaking, there isn’t room for more plants to grow within them. Large trees dominate the carbon intake process and they don’t get a lot of help from other plants.
In savannahs and other semi-arid lands though, there is plenty of room for more plants to grow. These regions are generally dotted with trees that take in a fair amount of carbon dioxide, but there are lots of wide-open spaces for more plants to grow. Such regions have dry and wet years, and in those wet years plant life explodes, resulting in more trees that can absorb more carbon dioxide.
The savannahs aren’t going to solve the problem over night, but they’ll be increasingly important in future years. As the global temperature rises, the world will become warmer, and semi-arid lands will become even more important to this process than they already are. The study also illustrates the need to protect these regions. We’ve known for years that rainforests are in danger and need to be protected, but no we can, and should, add savannahs and other semi-arid regions to that as well. Some of the poorest countries in the world are dominated by such regions, and that needs to be factored into their protection.