Amazon Rainforest Now Producing More Greenhouse Gases Than It Can Store
For years, the Amazon rainforest was dubbed the ‘lungs of the earth,’ as it was estimated its billions of trees emitted a fifth of the world’s oxygen.
New research suggests that, due to human impact through deforestation, illegal fires and cattle farming, it may now be producing more greenhouse gases than it can store.
Scientists believe that the level of gases such as methane and nitrous oxide being emitted exceeds the forest’s ability to soak up carbon dioxide.
‘After a transient period of reduced deforestation and increased optimism, rising agricultural conversion and illegal logging activities are again accelerating Amazonian forest loss. This resurgence has renewed concerns that the region is rapidly approaching a catastrophic tipping point,’ the study said.
The research, which was published in the Frontiers in Forests and Global Change journal, found that an increase in extreme weather, such as flooding and lengthy droughts is the cause of the rise of greenhouse gas levels.
Emissions of nitrous oxide increase after flooding, when logging compacts the soil, while methane is released from microbes in wet soil.
Black carbon, which is released from fires, is also contributing to the problem. ‘Widespread drought-intensified burning is likely to increase emissions in the future,’ the study predicts.
While the forest may have been the earth’s best defence against global warming in the past, it is now contributing to the problem.
‘Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that’s a problem,’ Kristofer Covey, a professor of environmental studies at New York’s Skidmore College and lead author of the study told National Geographic.
‘But when you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn’t that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate,’ he said.
While the Amazon is estimated to have 390 billion trees to soak up carbon dioxide, the study found current warming from non-CO2 agents, especially methane and nitrous oxide, ‘largely offsets — and most likely exceeds — the climate service provided by atmospheric CO2 uptake.’
While researchers believe the damage can still be reversed, they said governments need to radically change their approach. For example, although the Amazon is a large contributor to global black carbon emissions, black carbon is not included in Brazil’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement.
‘A continuing focus on a single metric (i.e., carbon uptake and storage) is incompatible with genuine efforts to understand and manage the biogeochemistry of climate in a rapidly changing Amazon Basin,’ the study said.
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CreditsFrontiers in Forests and Global Change and 1 other
Frontiers in Forests and Global Change