Climate Change

Amazon rainforest is drying out. How much more abuse can it take?

Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks. Preserving its trees is crucial to meeting international targets that limit global warming

 
By Robert Hunziker
Last Updated: Monday 29 June 2020

Over the past 20 years, like clockwork, severe droughts have hit the Amazon every five years with regularity. Of course, droughts have hit the Amazon rainforest throughout paleoclimate history, but this time it’s different. The frequency and severity are off the charts.

Recent data is starting to show 2020 as another dire year. “The old paradigm was that whatever carbon dioxide we put up in [human-caused] emissions, the Amazon would help absorb a major part of it,” according to Sassan Saatchi of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) JPL. 

But serious episodes of drought in 2005, 2010 and 2015 are causing researchers to rethink that idea. “The ecosystem has become so vulnerable to these warming and episodic drought events that it can switch from sink to source depending on the severity and the extent,” Saatchi said. “This is our new paradigm,” he added.

According to a detailed study:

Several studies indicate that the region has been suffering from severe drought since the end of the last century, as in 1997/1998, 2005, 2010 and 2015. The intensity and frequency of these extreme drought episodes during the last years, approximately one episode every five years with a significant increase in the coverage area, is remarkable.

2020 is shaping up to be a repeat performance. According to recent studies: “The data suggests 2020 could be a particularly dire year for the Amazon.” 

All of which begs the question: How much more abuse can the magnificent rainforest handle and for how long?

Hard-hitting droughts are not the only negative hitting the Amazon rainforest. Failure by political forces is also pounding the rainforest, as the Bolsanaro regime gooses abuse and overuse. As a result, people are striking back. Civil society groups and public prosecutors in Brazil are taking President Jar Bolsonaro’s government to court for failing to protect the rainforest.

“The Amazon rainforest — 60 per cent of which lies in Brazil — is one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks. Preserving its trees and plants is crucial to meeting international targets that limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” 

Meanwhile, hydrologic studies clearly indicate the Amazon is “drying out.” Nothing could be worse.

Matthew Rodell, a scientist and hydrologist who works with NASA’s GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On) satellite system monitors water levels stored deep beneath Earth’s surface. The data is important for predicting droughts on a worldwide basis.

Based upon current images, GRACE’s satellite shows an Amazon that is in tenuous condition in an unprecedented state of breakdown.

Within only the past few months, the world’s two leading Amazon rainforest scientists made a startling announcement. Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University) and Carlos Nobre (University of Sao Paulo) reported: “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” 

Tipping points are the equilibrium between life and death.

Of recent, GRACE’s images detected large areas of Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado biomes in what’s classified as “Deep Red Zones,” meaning severely constrained water levels. According to Rodell: “If we see normal to low precipitation this year, then there is potential for drought… I would be concerned.”

Rodell’s statement “If we see normal to low precipitation, then there is potential for drought,” is like a slap on the face, a wake-up call, implying “normal precipitation” by itself will not get the job done. Problem: Precipitation has been way below normal for way too long.

Today’s potential for a fourth major drought within only two decades magnifies into a virtual horror show when conjoined with the recent record. According to NASA, damaging episodes of three-droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015 have already undercut and damaged the stability of the Amazon ecosystem.

A major concern, it’s already starting to lose its special “carbon sink” status. That’s unprecedented.

The rainforest doesn’t react like it used to. It does not have enough time between droughts to heal itself and regrow. Throughout all of recorded history, this has never been witnessed.

In a word, it’s a horribly dreadful discovery. 

In many respects, the Amazon ecosystem is a facsimile of the larger biosphere but more sensitive to climate change, similar to the Arctic. In other words, some ecosystems are ultra-sensitive to changes in the climate system and thus serve as proxies or early warning signals prior to recognition of the looming threat by civilization at large.

Whilst climate change disrupts ecosystems on the fringes of civilization, society comfortably exists in artificial complexities of concrete, steel, glass, and wood within a vast chemically induced world that only recognises the danger of collapsing ecosystems after it’s too late. 

Because of fabricated / artificial lifestyles, humans are the last living organisms to see and feel, and indeed, truly comprehend the impact of climate change. Artificial lifestyles masquerade the bigger issues. Artificiality thus breeds ignorance and stupidity, as reflected in political elections. It’s the “Steel, Glass, Wood, Chemically Induced Syndrome,” and it’s deadly.

Meanwhile, Amazon deforestation is on a bender. According to National Institute for Space Research in Brazil National Penitentiary Institute, it’s up 40 per cent since January.

“The rise in deforestation troubles scientists who fear that the combination of forest loss and effects of climate change could trigger the Amazon rainforest to tip toward a drier ecosystem which is more prone to fire, generates less local and regional rainfall, sequesters less carbon from the atmosphere, and is less hospitable to species adapted to the dense and humid forests of lowland Amazonia.” 

The question arises: What is the impact of deforestation?

For starters, hands down, it’s the leading cause of extinction on the planet. Second, forest loss contributes approximately 15-20 per cent to increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions as loss of forests mass removes one of the planet’s natural carbon sinks. Additionally, forests play a critical role in the hydrological cycle, all the way north to Iowa’s cornfields with remarkable “rivers in the sky.”

A long list of additional major benefits could be enumerated, but suffice it to say that, of significant interest, scientists have discovered up to one-half of all trees greater than four inches in diameter in the Amazon are more than 300 years old, and some 1,000 years old.

Ergo, artificial life supplants hundreds and thousands of years of nature with one quick cut of a buzz saw, but in all honesty, 300-year-old trees take quite a bit longer than one quick cut.

The story has been republished from Pressenza. Read the original story here.

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