Will we lose the Amazon rainforest?

Article by Hazell Ransome.

The Amazon releases a huge amount of water into the atmosphere – more than 6 trillion tonnes per year [1]! This happens during a process where trees combine water from the ground and CO2 from the air to make their food (photosynthesis) [2]. To take the CO2 from the air trees have to open little holes in their leaves but this means that a lot of water escapes [3]. This water enters the atmosphere and becomes clouds, which keeps the air cool and creates more rain for the trees to grow [1]. Swipe to see our infographic!

With significant loss of trees, less water will enter the atmosphere so areas of the Amazon will become drier and drier as the water cycle breaks down [4]. This is already happening in the southern and eastern Amazon, where dry seasons have become longer for at least the past 2 decades [5,6].

Global warming will intensify this damage [7], and along with deforestation, it will lead to increased forest fires, regional droughts and flooding, destroying biodiversity [8].

The Amazon will pass a “tipping point” when the water cycle is so badly ruined that areas of the forest stop producing enough rain for a rainforest to grow [9,10]. It will be permanently lost and transformed into degraded savannas [9,11].

If we measure the tipping point by global warming alone, many studies suggest temperatures would have to rise by 4°C to cause parts of the Amazon rainforest to cross their tipping point [9].

However, if you take into account the drying effects of deforestation, some say the tipping point will occur even earlier, at 20-40% deforestation [7]. This is particularly alarming as we’ve cut down 17% of the Amazon rainforest since 1970 [7]!

References

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