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The influence of Israel's forests on the climate

The influence of Israel's forests on the climate

How do Israel's forests help reduce global warming? What does this have to do with the redemption of the Land of Israel, in general? An abstract from Emunat Itecha, Tammuz 5779, issue 124

Dr. Mordechai Shomron, agron. | Emunat Itecha, Tammuz 5779, issue 124

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 98a discusses the signs of the future redemption. Rabbi Abba states that there is an explicit sign of the redemption, based on the statement of Yechezkel: "But you, mountains of Israel, you shall give your branches and yield your fruit to My People of Israel for they will soon be coming" (36:8). The rejuvenation of Israel's soil is the first stage of the nation's redemption and the precursor to the resting of the Divine presence among the Jewish People. Everyone can plainly see how the Land of Israel is gradually being redeemed and is already bringing forth its bountiful fruit. Throughout history, the Land of Israel has been conquered by various nations, who exploited its natural resources to the utmost, and the land became desolate. From the lens of the Torah, the phenomenon was foreseen: "I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it" (Vayikra 26:32); our enemies failed to settle the Land of Israel.

Can forests impact the world climate in general and that in Israel in particular? If so, in which way, and what are the ramifications on the quality of life in Israel today?

To answer this global question, a network of approximately 600 state-of-the-art meteorology stations were set up all over the world to measure the impact of vegetation on the climate. Some 18 years ago one such station was erected in Israel in the Yatir Forest, situated on the edge of the desert, to examine the influence of the vegetation on the climate. The results were published recently in the periodical Ecology and Environment 2018 (Heb.) in an article by Dr. Eyal Rotenberg and Prof. Dan Yakir: "Forestry, climate, and the future of forests in Israel." The results were fascinating and indicate the presence of a mutualistic relationship between the climate and Israeli forests.

The main findings are as follows: (1) The increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is the result of pollution by industry, transportation, etc., which are responsible for global warming. Vegetation, on the other hand, cools off the earth by regulating carbon dioxide. (2) Vegetation also has an impact on solar radiation absorption and albedo (sunlight reflected off the Earth's surface), on changes in the evaporation and heating rates, and on the wind regime. In these ways it impacts the climate both directly and indirectly. (3) In the transpiration process (the way water moves through plants and evaporates), water vapor is released into the atmosphere; this, in turn, increases cloud formation. Clouds play a key role in reflecting some solar radiation back into the atmosphere and moderating warming on the soil. (4) The rate of carbon dioxide absorption during photosynthesis in the Yatir Forest is similar to pine forests in Europe (approximately 200g of carbon dioxide per sq.m.). (5) The average temperature of foliage in the Yatir forest is 5oC lower than in its environs; in the afternoon during summertime, the gap can reach up to 20oC. (6) Models of mutualistic relationships between vegetation and climate indicate that increasing the scope of forests in semi-arid regions, such as the Yatir Forest, can affect change in synoptic relationships and thus increase precipitation.

Current research highlights the importance of forests, which have a positive impact on the climate and increase precipitation. The results of this study conducted in Israel underscore the importance of planting trees and forests throughout the country. In light of this, we can offer a novel interpretation of the verse in Yechezkel (36:34): "וְהָאָרֶץ הַנְּשַׁמָּה תֵּעָבֵד" (generally rendered: "And the desolate land will be tilled"): "When you come to the land and you plant" (Vayikra 19:23), the Land's soul reawakens and it smiles at its children. The land transforms from a desolate wasteland to the Garden of Eden, as the prophet foretells: "And people will say, 'This very land, which had been desolate, has become like the Garden of Eden'" (Yechezkel 36:35).

Fortunate are we that we merit to witness this vision come to fruition before our very eyes!

For the full article in Hebrew, see here.