The Amazon Rainforest Could Become a Desert

amazon desert
Photo: EVO

A recent study has drawn the conclusion that it is possible for the Amazon rainforest to become a barren desert.  You might be wondering how this could happen to a region known for it’s rainfall and vast river networks.  The study shows that a combination of droughts, changes in the climate and human deforestation of the region it is possible.

The vast region that is also known as the “lungs of the world” could reach a tipping point where there would be no turning back.  The landscape of the region could be changed forever.  There has always been fires in the Amazon region, but the high humidity of the area controlled the widespread damage to the region.  However as the rainforest is drying out in some areas, it is creating a tinderbox environment.  The damage from a fire in these regions would be swift and could turn areas into a desert overnight.

The study was carried out on three different 50 hectare plots in the rainforest and were monitored by satellites.  It showed that extreme weather events combined with human activity could have devastating effects.  The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

amazon rainforest fire
Photo: robandstephanielevy

Trees that grow in the rainforest are not naturally immune to forest fires and are killed quickly by flames.  The study showed that the collapse of the overhead canopy resulted in an invasion of more flammable vegetation.  Thus this increased the chances of catastrophic damage.

Deforestation and farm development have created areas where the forest edges have more flammable vegetation.  The invasion of these flammable grasses are increasing the likelihood of fires when periods of drought exist.  Over the last 10 years the region has experienced several droughts.  In fact in 2005 the drought was so severe that it was classified as a 1 in 100 year event.  In 2005 the drought was so severe that scientists are of the opinion that the region produced more carbon dioxide than it produced.

Another drought in 2010 caused the Rio Negro river, whish is the largest tributary of the Amazon to fall to record levels.  The drought also caused the region to expel over 8 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide.

With the rise in global temperatures the region may be at risk.  If a tipping point is reached the consequences may be permanent.

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