Public Release: 

The bright ways forests affect their environment

University of Leeds

For decades scientists have tried to understand why forests emit the volatile gases that give pine forests their distinctive smell. A new study led by the University of Leeds may have found the answer.

Particles in the atmosphere scatter sunlight, causing light at the Earth's surface to come from many different directions rather than direct from the sun. This diffuse light benefits forests by illuminating leaves that would be shaded under direct sunlight.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, found that volatile gases emitted by forests form particles in the atmosphere and increase the amount of diffuse light reaching the forests. Using computer simulations the team were able to show that this increased diffuse sunlight enhanced the carbon absorbed by the world's forests by an amount equal to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions and industry emissions.

Study lead author Dr Alexandru Rap, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: "Amazingly we found that by emitting volatile gases forests are altering the Earth's atmosphere in a way which benefits the forests themselves. While emitting volatile gases costs a great deal of energy, we found that the forests get back more than twice as much benefit through the effect the increased diffuse light has on their photosynthesis".

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Further information

The paper Enhanced global primary production by biogenic aerosol via diffuse radiation fertilisation is published in Nature Geoscience 20 August 2018. (DOI:10.1038/s41561-018-0208-3)

For additional information contact press officer Anna Harrison at pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk or +44(0)113 343 4031

Additional authors on this paper include: C.E. Scott (University of Leeds), C.L. Reddington (University of Leeds), L. Mercado (University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), R.J. Ellis (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), S. Garraway (University of York), M.J. Evans (University of York), D.J. Beerling (University of Sheffield), A.R. MacKenzie (University of Birmingham), C.N. Hewitt (Lancaster University), D.V. Spracklen (University of Leeds)

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 33,000 students from more than 150 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

We are a top ten university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and are in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2019. Additionally, the University was awarded a Gold rating by the Government's Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017, recognising its 'consistently outstanding' teaching and learning provision. Twenty-six of our academics have been awarded National Teaching Fellowships - more than any other institution in England, Northern Ireland and Wales - reflecting the excellence of our teaching. http://www.leeds.ac.uk

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