Largely Deforested Section of the Amazon Is Releasing More CO2 Than It's Absorbing

Decade-long research shows that deforested sections of the Amazon rainforest are emitting more CO2 than they can absorb.
Fabienne Lang

One fifth of the Amazon rainforest emits more CO2 than it absorbs, says a new study. 

These worrying results are the culmination of 10 years' worth of research of greenhouse gases over the Amazon basin, which appears to show that around 20% of the entire rainforest has become a net source of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. 

Deforestation is one of the main culprits. 


Trees and carbon dioxide

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when they're still living, but as soon as they die they release it again. 

Each year, more and more trees are lost to forest fires and logging. The results of this study, yet to be published, will create implications in our efforts to combat climate change. 

The Amazon rainforest is widely known as a vital carbon store, or sink, helping to slow down the progression of global warming — however, as the study suggests, it may be turning into a carbon source more rapidly than was previously believed. 

Prof. Luciana Gatti, of the Brazil National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and her team measured the greenhouse gases over the Amazon rainforest every week for the past decade. They did so by flying aircraft with fitted sensors over diverse regions of the rainforest. 

Their results were eye-opening, and concerning: even though the vast majority of the Amazon still remains a large absorber of carbon dioxide, one specific section of the forest, which has been heavily deforested, has lost that capability. 

This region lies in the south-eastern part of the forest and counts for about 20% of it. This 20% has now become a source of carbon.

"Each year is worse," Gatti told the BBC's Newsnight.

"We observed that this area in the south-east is an important source of carbon. And it doesn't matter whether it is a wet year or a dry year. 2017-18 was a wet year, but it didn't make any difference."

Carlos Nobre, the co-author of the study, said that this is "very worrying" because "it could be showing the beginnings of a major tipping point."

Major changes towards deforestation need to occur right away, otherwise, this tipping point could happen sooner than expected.

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