An extensive study that looked at a decade of carbon emissions found that nearly 20 percent of one of the world’s largest carbon sinks is actually releasing carbon instead of capturing it, according to the BBC (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51464694)
The southeastern part of the forest, which has been heavily logged and clear-cut, seems to have lost its ability to absorb carbon, according to the BBC. In recent years, millions of trees have been lost to logging or to wildfires. Growing trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, while dead trees emit carbon. The rapid loss of young trees suggests that the Amazon rainforest may turn into a carbon source much faster than had been predicted, as the BBC reported (https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-fire-emissions/)
The 2019 wildfires in Brazil released nearly 392,000,000 metric tons of CO2. The total carbon emissions from last year’s fires in Brazil’s were equivalent to more than 80 percent of Brazil’s 2018 greenhouse gas emissions, as Bloomberg reported.
The future of the Amazon is troubling, as it could undergo a dramatic change to its landscape. Carlos Nobre, who co-authored the study, called the observation “very worrying” because “it could be showing the beginnings of a major tipping point.” He added that the findings point to a trend where more than half of the Amazon could shift from rainforest into savanna in the next 30 years, as the BBC reported.
Another study, recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (https://www.pnas.org/content/117/6/3015) found that “from a carbon standpoint, protected land and indigenous territories are doing a tremendous job in buffering against losses, particularly losses associated with deforestation,” said Wayne Walker, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, a U.S. climate science institute, and lead author on the study, to Reuters.
“Losses are seen from degradation associated with illegal activities, illegal mining and illegal deforestation … to natural-related disturbance losses associated with drought and forest fires,” he told Reuters (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-forests-amazon-trfn/amazon-emissions-lowest-from-indigenous-and-protected-lands-scientists-say-idUSKBN1ZQ2A3)
Despite efforts from indigenous communities to protect the rainforest, Nobre sees a tipping point fast approaching. “In our calculations, if we exceed that 20-25 percent of deforestation, and global warming continues unabated with high emission scenarios, then the tipping point would be reached,” said Nobre to the BBC. “Today we are at about 17 percent.”