Amazon rainforest previously acted like a warehouse, absorbing the CO2 emissions that led to the climate crisis, but is now causing it to accelerate. Most of the emissions are caused by fires, many of which deliberately break out to remove trees and create pastures and soybean crops.
But even without fires, higher temperatures and drought have helped make the southeastern Amazon a source of CO2.
Scientists say the loss of Amazon’s ability to store CO2 is a grim warning that reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels is more urgent than ever.
This research used small planes to measure CO2 levels up to 4,500 meters above the forest over the past decade, showing how the entire Amazon is changing. Previous studies showing that the Amazon turned into a SOURCE of CO2 were based on satellite data, which can be influenced by cloud cover or by ground measurements of trees that can cover only a small part of the vast area.
The researchers said the finding that part of the Amazon emits carbon even without fires is particularly worrying, the result of two factors: systematic deforestation and fires that make neighboring forests more vulnerable over the years.
“The first very bad news is that forest burning produces about three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that in places where deforestation is more than 30% carbon emissions are 10 times higher than those where deforestation is less than 20%,” the head of research, Luciana Gatti, from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, told the Guardian.
Fewer trees mean less rain and higher temperatures, making the drought even worse for the remaining forest. The government of Brazil’s president, Zaire Bolsonaro, has been heavily criticized for encouraging deforestation, which has increased in 12 years, while fires broke every record in June this year since 2007.
Some European states have said they will block an EU trade deal with Brazil and other countries unless Bolsonaro agrees to do more to deal with the total destruction of the Amazon.