Amazon rainforest losing capacity to fight climate change as trees die

The Amazon rainforest has been absorbing about 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually

Payton Guion
Thursday 19 March 2015 15:43

The Amazon rainforest is losing its ability to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as trees are dying, which could have negative implication on climate change across the globe.

A study led by the University of Leeds revealed that tree growth in the Amazon rainforest has declined by one-third since the 1980s and that the net uptake of carbon dioxide in the rainforest has dropped by half.

For the first time in history, carbon dioxide absorption by the Amazon rainforest has been surpassed by fossil fuel emissions in Latin America, the study found. Historically, the rainforest absorbed about 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The Amazon rainforest – and others like it – have been “a big subsidy from nature for a long time now, because they take up a significant amount of our carbon-dioxide emissions. This is a first indication that the process is saturating,” said Professor Oliver Phillips, a co-author of the study, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Trees in the rainforest absorb carbon dioxide and use it for photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light to energy. Plants turn the carbon dioxide into leaves, stems, roots and other organic matter.

As carbon dioxide emissions have increased, the life cycle of trees has accelerated. This means that trees in the Amazon are dying at a faster rate than they ever have, according to the study.

Forests, including the Amazon, absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted each year and oceans absorb another quarter. The remaining carbon dioxide – more than 17 billion tonnes – lingers in the atmosphere.

Scientific evidence proves that an abundance of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere has raised global temperatures and is a leading cause of man-made climate change.

The study does not suggest that what has happened in the Amazon is happening in other forests around the world, but scientists say they are concerned that this could be a global trend.

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