The Amazon Now Emits More Carbon Emissions Than It Absorbs, Finds Study

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According to a new study, the Amazon rainforest is releasing more carbon dioxide than it is absorbing. Each year, a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions are being released. What was previously a carbon sink is now speeding up the climate crisis.

Documenting the rainforest’s fires

Published in the journal Nature, the research was conducted over the last decade using small planes to measure CO2 levels up to 4,500m above the Amazon.

600 vertical profiles of CO2 and carbon monoxide emerging from the fires were taken at four sites from 2010 to 2018. The fires were found to create 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 a year with the growth of forests eliminating 0.5bn tonnes.

Before this research, several studies pointing out the absorption of CO2 were based on satellite data. These results can be easily affected by cloud cover, or ground measurements of trees, covering only small parts of the world’s biggest rainforest.

Carbon sink of the past

Scientists have stated that since 1960, the Amazon rainforest has played a significant role in absorbing a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions.

Dubbed the ‘lungs of the planet’ and home to an estimated 16,000 tree species and nearly 400 billion individual trees, the rainforest’s land is being cleared continuously to make way for beef and soy production. This prompts intentional burning for clear-cutting. The heating planet and increased droughts have also made the Amazon a source of CO2.

The researchers called this a warning sign and that it is now important more than ever to slash the emissions resulting from fossil fuels. They were particularly shocked to know that even without fires, the Amazon continues to release emissions, fueled by deforestation and fires making nearby forests more vulnerable every year.

In an interview with The Guardian, a member of the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil and lead researcher, Luciana Gatti said: “The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%.”

A separate study had predicted that deforestation activities will result in the rainforest turning into a source of emissions within the next decade.

She added that the dry season will make it even worse for the forest leading to a “negative loop” making them more vulnerable to “uncontrolled fires.”

The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%

Luciana Gatti, lead researcher of the study

Call for governments to save Amazon

In the past, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized for his lack of action against the deforestation practices for acquiring timber, beef, and soy from the Amazon, most of which is exported out of the country. Under his rule, deforestation has soared to a 12-year high.

In reality, the soy industry is seeing losses worth US$3.5 billion a year.

He has even brushed aside the claims of wildfires calling them lies and referring to them as “campfires” instead. But the fires continue to devastate the forests reaching a record high in June this year, the highest since 2007.

The worst part is we don’t use science to make decisions. 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

Luciana Gatti, lead researcher of the study

Some European countries have called for blocking the E.U. trade deal with Brazil if Bolsonaro fails to do anything about the crisis.

Gatti said: “We need a global agreement to save the Amazon. Imagine if we could prohibit fires in the Amazon – it could be a carbon sink. But we are doing the opposite – we are accelerating climate change. The worst part is we don’t use science to make decisions. 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.”

Bolsonaro is accused of not protecting indigenous people living in the Amazon. An investigation revealed that the rainforest plots, homes to indigenous communities, as large as 1,000 football pitches are being put for sale via Facebook marketplace ads.


Lead image courtesy of Pixabay.


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