Study reveals Amazon rainforest now releases more carbon than it stores

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The destruction of the Amazon rainforest influences how much carbon is released – now, scientists reveal that damaged, not-yet-destroyed areas are releasing carbon faster than the rainforest can store it

The Amazon rainforest has long been seen as a crucial carbon sink – a naturally occurring place on Earth, where carbon is absorbed. This then takes the level of carbon emissions down, globally. This rainforest is also home to 400 Indigenous communities, who have existed in a symbiotic relationship with their land for decades.

Both the rainforest and some tribes face an ominous existential threat.

3.9 hectares of deforestation in 2019

Deforestation is the destruction of trees and foliage, which significantly increased after Brazilian President Jail Bolsonaro lessened environmental, legal protections on the rainforest in 2019. According to scientists, 3.9 million hectares faced deforestation in 2019 – up from 1 million in 2018.

Degradation is the damage done to the Amazon rainforest, without fully destroying it. When large swathes of forest are degraded, carbon is released into the atmosphere. Though degradation is seen as less dangerous than deforestation, scientists are suggesting that actually, it is even more to blame for the level of carbon being released over the last ten years.

A research collaboration between INRAE, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Exeter led to the examination of how the rainforest is handling carbon right now. It seems that, due to excessive levels of deforestation and degradation, the carbon sink is no longer functioning as a carbon sink.

‘Degradation is a pervasive threat’, says Professor Sitch

Professor Stephen Sitch, Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, commented: “The Brazilian Amazon as a whole has lost some of its biomass, and therefore released carbon. We all know the importance of Amazon deforestation for global climate change. Yet our study shows how emissions from associated forest degradation processes can be even larger.

“Degradation is a pervasive threat to future forest integrity and requires urgent research attention.”

The researchers found that degradation was responsible for three times more carbon loss than deforestation. Now, the Amazon rainforest is releasing more carbon than it is absorbing.


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