In 15 Years Amazon Will Turn From Friend Into World's Biggest Problem

The Amazon rainforest helps keep a huge amount of carbon from reaching the atmosphere because of its vast vegetation and soil. However, researchers warned that tree loss due to extreme heat, drought and deforestation may soon cut the forest’s ability to absorb carbon and help prevent global warming. 

The new study, published in the journal Nature, predicts that the carbon sink capacity of the Amazon will drop to zero by 2035. If that happens, the world is at risk of greater carbon emissions, which could speed up climate change. 

Forests absorb carbon through photosynthesis. The Amazon rainforest is known as Earth’s largest rainforest, covering more than 2 million square miles of land in northern South America, mainly in Brazil and parts of Peru, Colombia and six other nations.

Researchers from Europe and Africa fear that a forest that huge may soon become a source of carbon because of the rapid forest decline. The concern comes after the team analyzed tree growth and mortality data from undisturbed forests in 11 countries in Africa for more than 50 years. 

Comparing the state of other forests to more than 300 plots of the Amazon, the researchers discovered how fast the rainforest is rapidly losing its carbon sink capacity. African forests are expected to lose 14 percent of their capacity by 2030, while the Amazon may turn from carbon sink to source within 15 years, Science Alert reported

Some areas showed forest gain due to higher CO2 levels because trees grow faster in carbon-rich environments. But other forests, like the Amazon, suffered significant tree loss due to extreme heat and drought despite high amounts of carbon to support growth. 

"This decrease is decades ahead of what even the most pessimistic climate models predicted," Wannes Hubau, a forest ecosystems expert at Belgium's Royal Museum for Central Africa, told AFP. "Mortality is a natural part of the cycle of forest trees. However, by pumping so much CO2 in the air, we have accelerated this cycle and blew its magnitude up to unknown proportions."

With evidence that the Amazon has been losing its carbon sink ability, some countries announced new efforts to add more trees. Companies also promised to launch mass-scale afforestation schemes to address their carbon emissions.

"As well as strong protection for intact tropical forest, even faster reductions of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions than those set out in the [Paris] agreement will be needed to prevent catastrophic climate change," Anja Rammig, of the Technical University of Munich's School of Life Sciences, said in a report on the study.

Amazon rainforest Researchers warned that tree loss due to extreme heat, drought and deforestation may soon cut the Amazon rainforest’s ability to absorb large amounts of carbon. Pixabay