Emissions Playing Russian Roulette With the Amazon

In 2010, we witnessed one of the most disturbing droughts that the Amazon rainforest has ever experienced and some scientist believe that we are now playing Russian roulette with the world’s largest rainforest.

There has been growing concern in the science community about the Amazon’s ability to continue absorbing Co2 emissions and that the rainforest may actually start adding to the problem. During droughts the Amazon does not curb the effect of greenhouse gas and instead of absorbing Co2 it emits vast quantities and adds to the problem.

In 2005, the rainforest suffered what was described as a once in a century drought. Many scientists believe that the 2005 temperatures has had an impact on last year’s drought as it has weakened much of the plant life causing more trees to die in 2010.

The drought also saw water levels of the Amazon River and its tributaries fall to their lowest levels in half a century.

English and Brazilian researchers suggested that this could develop into a common event and they called into question the vulnerability of the rainforest and its ability to absorb greenhouse gases if temperatures continue to rise and the climate becomes warmer.

Doctor Simon Lewis, of the University of Leeds who led the research group that studied the impact of the 2010 drought and the consequences that may occur in the foreseeable future suggested that, "If greenhouse gas emissions contribute to Amazon droughts that in turn cause forests to release carbon, this feedback loop would be extremely concerning. Put more starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world's largest rainforest."

The fact that both the droughts in 2005 and 2010 have come in quick succession has caused scientists to voice their concerns. It is believed that unusually warm water from the Atlantic Ocean is partially to blame for the droughts and the rise in temperature.

"If that turns out to be driven by escalating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, it could imply that we'll see more drought years in the near future," Dr Lewis said.

The research also highlighted the possibility that the Amazon rainforest could become hugely problematic if the trend of high temperatures and droughts continues in the region.

"If events like this do happen more often, the Amazon rainforest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases,” Dr Lewis added.

Photo credit: Shao