Tag Archives: Amazonian Rainforest

Large parts of the Amazon rainforest risks turning to savannah

As much as 40% of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, could be on the verge of crossing a tipping point and converting into a savannah, according to a new study. Rainforests are sensitive to changes in rainfall and moisture levels. Fires and droughts can also lead to areas losing trees and shifting to a savannah.

Credit Flickr Katarina.

The findings are especially concerning because parts of the Amazon region, which includes nine countries in Latin America, are currently receiving less rain than they were previously. This trend is expected to worsen as the region gets warmer due to rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The Brazilian Amazon is now dealing with the worst forest fire season in a decade.

A shift from rainforest to savannah would take decades to take full effect, but once it starts it’s hard to reverse. Rainforests support a much broader range of species than savannah and play a larger part in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While rainforests have trees, savannah has a mix of woodland and grassland.

“In around 40% of the Amazon, the rainfall is now at a level where the forest could exist in either state—rainforest or savanna, according to our findings,” said in a statement lead author Arie Staal, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center and the Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University.

Alongside a team of Europe-based scientists, Staal used the latest available atmospheric data to simulate how tropical forests might respond to changing rainfall levels. In particular, they simulated the effect of continued emissions from burning fossil fuels between now and the end of the century.

Staal said that rainforests normally generate their own rainfall through water vapour, sustaining tree growth and even extending their reach. But the inverse is also true. When precipitation levels fall, the forests begin to disappear. It’s a vicious cycle, Staal said. Forests shrink, we get less rainfall and this causes drying, leading to more fires and less forest.

The study explored the resilience of tropical rainforests under two additional extreme scenarios. In the first, researchers looked at how fast the world’s forests would grow back if they suddenly disappeared. The second looked at what would happen if rainforests covered all tropical regions on Earth

They found that many of the world’s rainforests would struggle to grow back once lost, leading to a far wider savanna-like mix of woodland and grassland. In addition to the Amazon loss, the team found that the forest in the Congo basin was at risk of changing to savanna and that large swathes would not grow back once gone.

“We understand now that rainforests on all continents are very sensitive to global change and can rapidly lose their ability to adapt,” said in a statement Ingo Fetzer, also from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “Once gone, their recovery will take many decades to return to their original state,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

What is happening in the Amazon? Key questions and answers

Wildfires are raging throughout the Amazon forest, making headlines worldwide and pushing the world’s largest forest closer and closer to an ecological “tipping point” at which the forest could irretrievably degrade into drylands.

But is be a complex story, and online discussion has been riddled with misinformation, misleading photos, and outright errors. To fill in the gaps and bust some common myths, we answered some of the key questions regarding the forest fires.

Credit: Flickr

What is happening in the Amazon now?

Fires are burning in Brazil and Bolivia, many of them in the world’s llargest rainforest, the Amazon, sending clouds of smoke across the region and pumping alarming quantities of carbon into the world’s atmosphere.

So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected, which marks an 83% increase from 2018 and the highest number on record since 2013. In several states across Brazil, the amount of ash and other particulates in August has hit the highest level since 2010.

Is all the Amazon forest under fire?

No, images of an entire forest ablaze are exaggerated. There has been misinformation spread in social media, using images of previous years’ burning seasons. There are larger fires in Colombia and eastern Brazil than in the Amazon. While there are fires in protected areas, most of them are in already deforested ones.

What’s causing the forest fires?

The fires are mostly caused by farmers clearing forest for cropland or burning stubble after the harvest season. Illegal land-grabbers are also responsible, destroying trees to raise the value of the property they seize. They are manmade and, in many cases, deliberate. Unlike the recent forest fires in Siberia and Alaska, the Amazon fires are very unlikely to have been caused by lightning. Many of the fires can be linked to deforestation for soy crops, which is used to feed cattle and pigs to support the ever-growing demand for meat.

Why is the Amazon so important?

The Amazon rainforest is known as the “planet’s lungs,” because it provides a large part of the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen. The rainforest also removes vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and stores it, which can help slow down global warming. Additionally, the rainforest is home to more than 3 million species of plants and animals, representing the most biodiversity in the world. Millions of indigenous people also live in the Amazon rainforest.

If the Amazon is the planet’s lungs, should we worry about oxygen?

No. The crops being planted in the cleared forest areas would also produce oxygen, quite likely at higher levels. So, although the burning of the rainforest is worrying for many reasons, there is no need to worry about an oxygen shortage.

If it’s not oxygen, what are the consequences of the forest fires?

It’s mostly CO2 and ecosystem destruction. Mostly illegal, the forest fires are degrading the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon sink and most important home for biodiversity. They also contribute to a rise in deforestation in the region. Scientists argue the Amazon is approaching a tipping point, after which it will irreversibly degrade into a dry savannah. This is happening at a time when the world needs billions of more trees to absorb carbon and stabilize the climate.

How much forest is being lost?

Deforestation spiked in July to a level not seen in more than a decade. Trees were being cleared at the rate of five football pitches every minute, according to Brazil’s space agency. Over the single month, 2,254 sq km (870 sq miles) were lost, a rise of 278% in the same month last year. This year could be the first for 10 years in which 10,000 sq km of Amazon are lost.

Brazil had been able to slow down deforestation by 80% between 2005 and 2014. This was done with strict monitoring, better policing and stiffer penalties. But that system has been eroded in recent years and many fear a return to the alarming levels of forest loss that occurred two decades ago.

Is the Brazilian national government the one to blame?

Yes, at least in part. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro weakened the country’s environment agency, attacking conservation NGOs and promoting the opening of the Amazon to mining, farming, and logging. He also dismissed satellite data on deforestation and fired the head of the space agency. Alongside Bolsonaro, the agricultural lobby is powerful in Brazil and it has steadily eroded the protection system that was so successful from 2005-2014.

How is Brazil being helped by the rest of the world?

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, world leaders, and celebrities have expressed their concern about the situation in Brazil. The issue was one of the main topics in the G7 leaders’ summit in France, with countries committing to release US$22 million to help stop the fires. Brazil’s neighboring countries Argentina and Uruguay have also offered help to Brazil.

If the fires are stopped, could the Amazon be fully restored?

Yes. The areas in the Amazon that are currently being burned have a high restoration potential because the Amazonian ecosystem is incredibly resilient, and also because so many areas that are degraded are in close proximity to the intact forest. Nevertheless, it will take time and effective efforts to leave the forest alone. Naturally regenerating tropical forests take about 20 years for forest cover to come back.

What can individuals do?

No matter how far you live from the Amazon rainforest, you are probably benefiting from all that it gives to the Earth.

There are a few things you can do to show your support, such as donating to donating highly-rated charities that are fighting to protect the Amazon, such as Amazon Watch. Also, you can reduce your beef and dairy consumption, activities that can lead to deforestation — this is probably the most important and significant thing you can do. Lastly, pushing your politicians to take action on these issues, both locally and globally. At the very least, being aware (and spreading awareness) can also amount to something.

Amazon Forest

Amazon trees will withstand even the most pessimistic of global warming scenarios

Amazon Forest

Researchers from the University of Michigan and University College London have found that trees in the Amazon forest will be able to withstand even the most dreaded of forecasted  global warming scenarios from a century from now, after they showed they’ve withstood the test of time. The researchers found that most tree species had been around for millions of years, going through climates in Earth history much more threatening then that of the present or possible in the near future. While climate change might not be a big hurdle for the Amazon rainforest, ever increasing deforestation is a grave issue.

Past studies claimed that rising global warming would cause dreaded effects on tree species across the world, which might lead to their death as temperatures rise. Christopher Dick, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues studied mutations in DNA to determine the ages of 12 widespread Amazonian tree species, including the kapok and the balsa to read their recorded history.

Their results revealed that most tree species were older than 2.6 million years, seven have been present for at least 5.6million years, and three have existed in the Amazon  for a whooping 8 million years. Meaning they’ve caught some intensely warm climates, spanning temperatures far outreaching those predicted in the worse case scenarios made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the region in 2100. For instance, the researchers found surface air temperatures across Amazonia in the early Pliocene Epoch (3.6million to 5million years ago) were similar to the IPCC predictions for the region in 2100 with moderate carbon emissions. Similarly, air temperatures in the late Miocene Epoch  (5.3million to 11.5million years ago) were similar to those projected by the IPCC for the region in 2100 using the highest carbon-emission scenarios.

‘Our paper provides evidence that common Neotropical tree species endured climates warmer than the present, implying they can tolerate near-term future warming under climate change,’ said Professor Dick.

As they become fewer and fewer, however, the trees will have an increasingly hard time coping with climate change, since trees and plants absorb carbon. Fewer trees mean a warmer planet, and humans are certain to make their contribution. Deforestation is an increasingly pressing issue in the region. The authors recommend that a tough conservation policy should focus on preventing deforestation for agriculture and mining to preserve the Rainforest and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

‘The past cannot be compared directly with the future.’ he said. 

‘While tree species seem likely to tolerate higher air temperatures than today, the Amazon forest is being converted for agriculture and mining, and what remains is being fragmented by roads and fields.’

More research is needed though. For a lot of time, the Earth has experienced a rather cold climate. The researchers fear tolerance to warmer temperatures might have been lost along the countless generations.

“An important caveat is that because we’ve been in a cold period over the past 2 million years – basically the whole Quaternary Period – some of the trees’ adaptations to warmth tolerance may have been lost,” Dick said, adding that more research will be needed to “test whether this has occurred.”

© Sebastiao Salgado

Two dazzling, yet discrepant sides of the Amazon [AMAZING PHOTOS]

A recent art photography exhibition, dubbed  Amazon, is currently on display at Somerset House in London, which brings together two remarkable, distinct bodies of photography to highlight the plight of the Amazonian rainforest and the people living within it. Thus, the work of Brazilian Sebastião Salgado depicts the virgin beauty of the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world, while Swedish photographer Per Anders Pettersson chose to show the less serene side.

Salgado’s photo from below shows a largely unspoiled region in the state of Amazonas in north-west Brazil, part of his ongoing project called Genesis, in which he tries to capture the pristine beauty of the Amazon and its inhabitants in black and white.

© Sebastiao Salgado

© Sebastiao Salgado

In total opposition, yet still of a retched beauty, Pettersson’s photograph shows a huge heavily deforested area of the rain forest. The photographer captured the sight on 21 June this year,when  he flew over the Amazonian rainforest. What’s sad, maybe even stupid if you will, is that much of the deforestation was made to clear way for farmland. The problem is that the soil there is practically unusable, which results in poor crops.

© Per-Anders Pettersson

© Per-Anders Pettersson

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

Vietnam War bio-weapon used today for Amazon deforestation

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

Of all the despicable things I thought possible going on around the Amazonian Rainforrest,  using an extremely powerful chemical agent on the forest would’ve never crossed not even the darkest region of my conscious. It’s indeed petrifying what the human mind can conjure up for profit.

Agent Orange is the chemical in question, and is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War. It provides a quick and easy deployment from the air via an helicopter, and the surface deforested can amount to entire hectares on a single flight. It also doesn’t draw as much attention as a chainsaw or tractor.

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land

This is why some ranchers decided to use the method. Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA detected through an aerial survey, from a few weeks back, 440 acres of rainforest that had been sprayed with the compound – poisoning thousands of trees and an untold number of animals, potentially for generations. The agency began the surveying operation after satellite imagery showed trees in the Amazonian forest ash-colored and defoliated by toxic chemicals.

Curiously enough, last week, IBAMA found approximately four tons of Agent Orange hidden in the forest awaiting dispension. If released, the chemicals could have potentially decimated some 7,500 acres of rainforest, killing all the wildlife that resides there and contaminating groundwater. In this case, the individual responsible was identified and now faces fines nearing $1.3 million.

The method in question seems to have sprung out again, since the last case involving it was reported in 1999. Officials however claim that the method might have been more thoroughly used, but has remained undetected so far. More such cases are predicted to appear now with intensification in environmental crime hunt in Brazil.

“They [deforesters] have changed their strategy because, in a short time, more areas of forest can be destroyed with herbicides. Thus, they don’t need to mobilize tree-cutting teams and can therefore bypass the supervision of IBAMA,” says Jerfferson Lobato of IBAMA.

During the Vietnam War, some 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were dispersed above the Vietnamese forests, impacting the health of some 3 million, mostly peasant, Vietnamese citizens. Reportedly, 400,000 people were killed and 500,000 children were born with defects as a direct effect to the exposure to the pesticide. Additionally, the chemical’s effect on the environment have been profound and lasting.