Added by David Sandercock on February 5, 2011
Two severe droughts that have hit the Amazon rainforest in the last five years are feared to have caused a reversal in the area’s ability to counter global greenhouse gas emissions.
The “one-in-100-year” drought that hit the Amazon in 2005 caused a large number of trees to die and, as a consequence, an estimated five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was released from the rotting vegetation, and from the area’s reduced ability to absorb the gas.
New reports are now indicating that the draught experienced last year was even more severe. As a result of the draught, the Rio Negro tributary of the Amazon River fell to its lowest level ever recorded.
Dr Simon Lewis, at the University of Leeds, told the Science journal: ”Having two events of this magnitude in such close succession is extremely unusual, but is unfortunately consistent with those climate models that project a grim future for Amazonia.”
Experts predict that should these extreme weather patterns become more frequent, it is possible that the natural buffer to global carbon emissions provided by the Amazon will be lost. The forested region covers an area 25 times the size of the UK. In a typical year it absorbs some 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Increased droughts could contribute to the Amazon becoming a carbon emitter rather than a carbon sink, experts fear.