Trees help prevent flooding. That may seem obvious to anyone who knows the first thing — or cares — about soil erosion and how landslides work, but it’s especially worth being reminded of in a week when, according to a BBC report, an area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football field is now being cleared every single minute, this judging from recently released satellite photographs.
As the single largest rainforest on planet Earth, the Amazon is a vital carbon-capture system that slows the pace of global heating, which scientific models show is accelerating out of control, far beyond what even the most pessimistic climate scientists’ projections were just 10 years ago.
The destruction is total. BBC observed that, in one vast tract of recently cleared land, their reporter saw giant trees lying on their sides, much of the foliage still green, even as the felled trees were surrounded by patches of bare earth drying under a relentless equatorial sun.
In recent days, the death toll has continued to rise in Russia’s Irkutsk region, where flooding caused by the combined result of a prolonged snow melt and an unexpectedly violent storm system have wreaked havoc on thousands of residents who have lost their homes; wet weather flooding continues to ravage parts of North America, from southern Alberta to Minnesota, New Jersey and West Virginia.
According to a recent survey by the European
Environment Agency — again, this obvious to anyone with even a remote grasp of how bioscience works, but still, it bears repeating — forests provide a wide range of useful services to the ecosystem, including “water retention” — water absorbed or otherwise used by forests — and are essential for human well-being. Water retention plays an important role in mitigating the effects of heavy rainfall coupled with droughts; saving forests and nurturing tree growth plays an important role in combatting the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. Forests can and do soak up excess rainwater, which in turn prevents run-off and damage from flooding.
Soya fields in Brazil, planted to feed the planet’s ever-increasing demand for meat from cattle — the primary agricultural industry driving deforestation — is about as effective at preventing flooding as a breached hydro-electric dam.
Strange as it may seem — hashtag #sarcasm — trees have extensive root systems that both stabilize and bind together the soil around them, which in turn absorbs large amounts of water that reduces destructive run-off. They don’t have to be towering or majestic, either — though, oddly enough, the bigger the tree, the more water it will drink. Woodland acts as a barrier to floodwater, and prevents soil erosion at the same time, which in turn reduces the amount of sediment displaced in rivers.
See? Simple. Science.