When you think about rainforests, the first thing that comes to mind is the humid, tropical jungle of the Amazon filled with rare, endemic animals. But not all precipitation-heavy biomes are found along the steamy equator. The planet also boasts many temperate rainforests, which are distinguished by their cooler temperatures and dense ecosystems filled with towering cone-bearing evergreens and thick, moist carpets of moss.
Like their tropical counterparts, temperate rainforests face a host of ecological challenges, the most egregious of which is the extensive logging of timber, which contributes to the ever-looming threat of climate change.
"A single tree can sequester up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in its life," explains Richard Donovan, Vice President of Forestry for the Rainforest Alliance, "but when forests are irresponsibly logged, not only do we lose the storage power of the tree, but emissions are actually released into the atmosphere."
Deforestation of both tropical and temperate forest biomes account for up to 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Rainforest Alliance. To make matters worse, the subsequent use of those deforested lands for agriculture or urban development accounts for yet another 25 percent of emissions.
Temperate rainforests are not as widespread or expansive as their tropical counterparts, but you can find them in small patches on virtually every continent except Antarctica. In honor of the International Day of Forests on March 21, here are just a few regions that are home to the world's most breathtaking temperate rainforests:
1. Taiheiyo rain forests of Japan
Large chunks of Japan are covered in temperate rainforest in part because the island nation is surrounded on all sides by open ocean. Some of the best places to indulge your moss viewing hobby include Kirishima-Yaku National Park, Yoshino-Kumano National Park and Mount Kirishima.
2. Appalachian temperate rain forests
Stretching from northern Georgia to western North Carolina, the Appalachian temperate rainforest is perched atop one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. One of the best places to immerse yourself in this moist, mountainous environment is by visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
3. Atlantic Oakwoods of Great Britain
Much of the historical range of old-growth Atlantic Oakwoods have succumbed to agriculture and other development over the past several centuries, but what remains of these "Celtic rain forests" will transport you to the times of Arthurian lore.
4. Valdivian temperate rain forests of Chile
This Chilean gem is often overshadowed by its massive Amazonian neighbor to the north, the Valdivian temperate rainforests are impressive in their own right. In addition to being the second largest temperate rainforest in the world, they are also an indispensable haven for endemic Antarctic flora, and the windswept landscape of the neighboring Magellanic subpolar forests are just as otherworldly.
5. New Zealand temperate rain forests
There are two distinct regions within the multi-island nation of New Zealand that boast whimsical, wet woodlands — the Fiordland and Western temperate rainforests. Both of these ecoregions are located on the western side of New Zealand's South Island (also known as "Te Waipounamu"), but each boast their own distinct endemic flora and fauna.
6. Baekdu Mountains of North Korea/China
Also known as Paektu or Changbai, the Baekdu volcano sits along the border of North Korea and China, and is part of a larger range that extends down to Mount Jiri in South Korea. The forests that cover this geologic spine are filled with a moist ecosystem of broadleaf and cone-bearing trees.
7. Fragas do Eume of Spain
Situated in northwestern Spain, the name of this oak-filled rainforest translates in Spanish to "natural woodland" — a nod to its status as an old-growth haven. The forest is currently protected as a natural park, though several hundred people (as well as a monastery) reside within its boundaries.
8. Pacific temperate rain forests
Stretching from northern California, up through Canada and into Alaska, this amazing temperate rainforest region is the largest of its kind in the world. One of the most well-known destinations to see this kind of beauty is in Washington's Olympic National Park.
9. High elevation mountain rain forests of Taiwan
One of the best places in Taiwan to see a temperate rain forest is the area surrounding Jade Mountain (also known as Yushan). This picturesque mountain also happens to be a great example of a sky island.
10. Australian temperate rain forests
Australia is more than just the Outback, mate. While there's a fair amount of tropical rainforest on the continent (such as the Daintree rainforest), there is also a gradient of warm and cool temperate rainforest that stretches from the southeast coast of mainland Australia to the neighboring island of Tasmania.
11. Knysna-Amatole coastal rain forests of South Africa
Africa is filled with tropical rainforests, but only the southern tip of the continent is cool enough to boast a more temperate biome. The moisture found in the Knysna-Amatole forests are largely brought in as fog from the Indian Ocean, like the misty patch seen above.
12. Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests of Iran and Azerbaijan
When you ponder the environment of the Middle East, wet rainforests are probably the last thing to come to mind, but that's exactly what you'll find if you take a trip to northern Iran and walk among the broadleaf deciduous forests that border the Caspian Sea.