Regina Rochefort, a National Park Service science adviser at Mount Rainier, said the meadows surrounding the famous peak have been shrinking because of less snowfall and shorter periods of snow cover. In the past, the snow has restricted new tree growth with freezing temperatures a limited water supply.
So you’re probably thinking this is great news—after all, more trees will store more carbon, right? But according to a study performed last year, the good news is more so that less snow will mean more water for the trees, which will dramatically increase the forest’s overall cooling impact.
Trees are not only carbon-sinks, but they also perform two other climate-affecting tasks: they absorb light into their dark leaves—causing a warming effect—and they pull water out of the ground and into the air, creating low clouds that promote cooling.
When the ground is covered with snow, the trees cannot absorb enough water from the ground to significantly impact cooling though evaporation. In fact, trees in snow-covered areas can often advance global warming rather than slow it down.
So, essentially, the trees on Mount Rainier may now actually be better prepared to fight global warming because of the impacts of climate change itself. But don’t think that the damage that caused the snow to melt in the first place will be reversed any time soon merely by trees making more clouds. If only it were so simple.