Scientists have discovered another factor that might interact with rising carbon dioxide emissions to influence climate change—tropical forests.
In a study published in Nature Climate Change Friday, researchers found that the way tropical forests interact with increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide could alter rainfall patterns, drying out the Amazon rainforest and increasing precipitation in African and Indonesian forests.
"People tend to think that most of the disruption will come from heat going into the oceans, which, in turn, will alter wind patterns," University of California, Irvine (UCI) professor and study author James Randerson said in a UCI press release. "We have found that large-scale changes in rainfall can, in part, be attributed to the way tropical forests respond to the overabundance of carbon dioxide humans are emitting into the atmosphere, particularly over dense forests in the Amazon and across Asia."
These big effects start with tiny holes. Trees have openings in the underside of their leaves called stomata, which open and close to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide a tree takes in and the amount of water vapor it releases. When there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the stomata do not need to open as widely, and therefore release less water vapor.
"In many tropical forest regions, the moisture supplied by transpiration, which connects water underground at the root level directly to the atmosphere as it is pulled up to the leaves, can contribute as much as moisture evaporated from the ocean that rains back down at a given location—which is normal rainforest recycling," study lead author Gabriel Kooperman said in the press release.
The researchers used climate models to study how rising carbon dioxide levels would interact with forests to change the climate on various continents.
They found the Amazon rainforest was most at risk of drought and forest mortality due to rising carbon dioxide. Kopperman explained that, as stomata in the Amazon release less water vapor, fewer clouds will form over the forest. This will mean that water vapor from the Atlantic Ocean will not have pre-existing clouds to bond with, and will instead blow over the forest to the Andes.
However, this effect was not predicted to occur in other tropical forests. Forests in Africa and on islands in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia were predicted to see increased rainfall.
On island forests in particular, this is because the reduced moisture will increase temperatures over the islands relative to the surrounding ocean air, pulling in greater moisture from ocean systems.
Kooperman said both drought and floods caused by increased rainfall could have serious consequences both for biodiversity and for food and water access for impoverished populations.
Earth's Intact Forests Are Invaluable, and in Danger https://t.co/uHCCfzTHDm @wwwfoecouk @GreenpeaceUK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521539406.0
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.