Shifts in regional water availability due to global tree restoration
Tree restoration is an effective way to store atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change. However, large-scale tree-cover expansion has long been known to increase evaporation, leading to reduced local water availability and streamflow. More recent studies suggest that increased precipitation, through enhanced atmospheric moisture recycling, can offset this effect. Here we calculate how 900 million hectares of global tree restoration would impact evaporation and precipitation using an ensemble of data-driven Budyko models and the UTrack moisture recycling dataset.
We show that the combined effects of directly enhanced evaporation and indirectly enhanced precipitation create complex patterns of shifting water availability. Large-scale tree-cover expansion can increase water availability by up to 6% in some regions, while decreasing it by up to 38% in others. There is a divergent impact on large river basins: some rivers could lose 6% of their streamflow due to enhanced evaporation, while for other rivers, the greater evaporation is counterbalanced by more moisture recycling. Several so-called hot spots for forest restoration could lose water, including regions that are already facing water scarcity today. Tree restoration significantly shifts terrestrial water fluxes, and we emphasize that future tree-restoration strategies should consider these hydrological effects.
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