You may live thousands of miles from rain forests, but you still benefit from their presence. Rain forest trees produce oxygen to breathe, fresh water to drink and useful products ranging from shampoo to medicine. When people cut down a rain forest, these benefits vanish along with the homes of plants and animals that live there.
Rainfall from the Rain Forests
Most rain forest deforestation occurs when people clear land to use for agricultural purposes. Clear the trees, and you acquire more room to raise cattle and produce food. Commercial loggers also harvest rain forest trees for pulp and timber. Deforestation is a problem because rain forests help regulate weather patterns and temperature. Trees in these forests absorb water and release it into the environment through a process called transpiration. In areas with rain forests, 75 percent of the rain that falls goes back into the atmosphere because of transpiration. Cut down the trees, and only 25 percent makes it back into the atmosphere. This rain is important because it helps supply the planet with fresh water.
Breathing Air Courtesy of the Trees
Matthew C. Hansen, professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, called rain forests the "lungs of the planet." Trees in these forests help remove carbon dioxide from the air by using it to make food through photosynthesis. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes the Earth's atmosphere to get warmer. Each acre of rain forest removes about 2.5 tons of CO2 each year. Rain forests also release oxygen into the atmosphere, producing 20 percent of the planet's oxygen supply. Finally, when people cut down rain forest trees, if they also burn them (a common practice for clearing tropical forest), carbon in the trees combines with oxygen to form CO2 that goes into the atmosphere.
Plants and Animals: Innocent Deforestation Casualties
Rain forests cover less than 7 percent of the planet's land area but house over half of all living organisms. Many of these life forms may become extinct if their homes go away. This loss affects humans because some organisms that vanish could help researchers find cures for diseases. Wind and rain can cause extensive erosion in areas where people remove rain forest trees, and soil may lose its ability to grow plants. According to NASA, all rain forests will vanish within a century if people keep cutting them down at the current rate. The agency also notes that if this happens, the majority of Earth's animal and plant species will disappear.
Gifts from the Rain Forests
In addition to timber, rain forests provide products such as bananas, chocolate, insecticides, perfume, detergent, chewing gum, coffee and rubber. Rain forest plants produce around 25 percent of all drugs on the market. Scientists have examined only around 1 percent of tropical plants, but in that sample, they've discovered treatments for medical problems, such as high blood pressure and leukemia. The U.S. National Cancer Institute also reports that rain forests account for 70 percent of the plants that the society finds useful for cancer treatment. As rain forests disappear, so do all these beneficial products and medicines.
- Rain Forest Report Card: Rain Forest Report Card
- University of Maryland: UMD Researchers Demonstrate Alarming Indonesian Forest Loss
- Our Planet: Why Rainforests Matter
- Our Planet: Take a Breath, Thank a Rainforest
- NASA Earth Observatory: Tropical Deforestation Fact Sheet
- National Science Association: A Fraction of the Rain Forest
- Scholastic: Rain Forest
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