Researchers have found that the Amazon rainforest emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, further accelerating climate change.
Up to one fifth of the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it absorbs, new research suggests. Results from a decade-long study of greenhouse gases over the Amazon basin appear to show around 20% of the total area has become a net source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.One of the main causes is deforestation.
While trees are growing they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; dead trees release it again. Millions of trees have been lost to logging and fires in recent years. The results of the study, which have not yet been published, have implications for the effort to combat climate change.
They suggest that the Amazon rainforest - a vital carbon store, or "sink", that slows the pace of global warming - may be turning into a carbon source faster than previously thought. And after almost a decade going down, deforestation in the Amazon has increased significantly in recent years. 2019 was a particularly bad year. Between July and September last year, destruction was above 1,000 sq km (386 sq mi) per month.
Gatti’s research, published in the journal Nature, reiterates that losing such a large, natural carbon capture system (plants and trees capture about 25% of CO2 emissions) makes significantly cutting down on fossil fuel consumption that much more urgent.
“Imagine if we could prohibit fires in the Amazon — it could be a carbon sink,” Gatti said. “But we are doing the opposite — we are accelerating climate change.”
“The worst part is we don’t use science to make decisions,” she added. “People think that converting more land to agriculture will mean more productivity, but in fact we lose productivity because of the negative impact on rain.”