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In this aerial image, A fire burns in a section of the Amazon rain forest on August 25, 2019 in the Candeias do Jamari region near Porto Velho, Brazil. According to INPE, Brazil's National Institute of Space Research, the number of fires detected by satellite in the Amazon region this month is the highest since 2010.
(Photo : Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)

For the first time, scientists have proven that the Amazon rainforest is releasing more carbon dioxide than it can absorb. According to research, annual emissions total one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The massive forest had previously served as a carbon sink, absorbing the emissions that have accelerated the global catastrophe, but is now contributing to its worsening, according to experts.

The majority of the emissions come from fires, many of which are intentionally set to clear land for cattle and soy cultivation. However, even without fires, the south-eastern Amazon has become a source of CO2 rather than a sink due to rising temperatures and droughts.

Absorbing Carbon

(Photo : Tom Fisk)

Since 1960, growing trees and plants have absorbed almost a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions, with the Amazon playing a key role as the world's biggest tropical forest. So losing Amazon's ability to collect CO2 is a harsh reminder that reducing fossil-fuel emissions is more important than ever.

Over the previous decade, tiny planes were employed to measure CO2 levels up to 4,500 meters above the jungle, revealing how the whole Amazon is changing. However, previous research that suggested the Amazon was becoming a CO2 source relied on satellite data, which may be hindered by cloud cover or ground tree surveys, which can only cover a small portion of the enormous region.

According to the scientists, the fact that section of the Amazon was spewing carbon even when there were no fires was particularly concerning. They believe it is the outcome of each year's deforestation and fires, leaving nearby woods more vulnerable the following year.

In addition, because trees provide a large portion of the region's rainfall, fewer trees mean more severe droughts and heat waves, as well as more tree deaths and fires.

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(Photo : Getty images )

Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been chastised for promoting greater deforestation, which has reached a 12-year high while fires have reached their worst level since 2007.

"The first terrible news is that forest fire creates about three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs," said Luciana Gatti of Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, who led the study. The second bad news is that areas with 30% or more deforestation have carbon emissions that are ten times greater than those with less than 20% deforestation."

"We have a really negative loop that makes the forest more prone to uncontrolled fires," she added, explaining that fewer trees meant less rain and greater temperatures, making the dry season even worse for the remaining forest.

Trade and Exports

Brazil exports a large amount of Amazonian wood, cattle, and soy. "To rescue the Amazon, we need a worldwide agreement," Gatti added. However, some European countries have stated that they will oppose a trade agreement between the EU and Brazil and other countries unless Bolsonaro promises to do more to combat Amazon deforestation.

Carbon Hotspot

(Photo : Conscious Design on Unsplash)

From 2010 to 2018, 600 vertical profiles of CO2 and carbon monoxide, generated by fires, were taken at four locations in the Brazilian Amazon and published in the journal Nature. As a result, it was discovered that fires created 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, whereas forest growth removed 0.5 billion tonnes. The 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is equal to Japan's yearly emissions, making it the world's fifth-largest polluter.

Prof Simon Lewis of University College London remarked, "This is a very outstanding research." "It's an incredible achievement to fly every two weeks and maintain consistent laboratory readings for nine years."

"What scientists have feared would happen is a positive feedback, in which deforestation and climate change cause a release of carbon from the remaining forest, reinforcing more heat and carbon loss," he added

"We now have solid proof that this is taking place. The sink-to-source narrative in the south-east Amazon is just another harsh warning that climate consequences are speeding up."


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(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

The airborne research campaign, according to Colorado State University professor Scott Denning, was "heroic." "The forest in the south-east is no longer expanding at a higher rate than it is dying. This is bad news: having the world's most prolific carbon absorber go from a sink to a source implies we'll have to phase out fossil fuels far quicker than we anticipated."

According to a satellite study published in April, the Brazilian Amazon has emitted roughly 20% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it has absorbed over the last decade. Tropical forests are absorbing less CO2 than they were 30 years ago, according to a study published in 2020 that followed 300,000 trees for 30 years. "They're complementary studies using fundamentally different techniques that arrive at quite similar conclusions," Denning explained.

"Imagine if we could prevent forest fires in the Amazon - it might serve as a carbon sink," Gatti added. "However, we are doing exactly the reverse - we are hastening climate change."

Gains and Loss

Small Drought-Resilient Trees May be the Future of the Amazon Rainforest
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

"The saddest thing is that we don't make judgments based on science," she added. "People believe that turning more land to agriculture would increase production, but the detrimental impact on rain actually reduces productivity."

According to research published on Friday, the soy sector in Brazil loses $3.5 billion per year due to the initial rise in severe heat that follows forest loss.

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