Tropical forests are losing carbon, study says

The increase in environmental degradation has caused tropical forests to cease counterbalancing carbon emissions. Although the forests store great quantities of carbon, the losses have been more than the gains. Tropical forests have been emitting 861 million tons of carbon and can only absorb 436 million, which represents around 425 million tons of carbon absorbed in the atmosphere.

The data is from a study from Woods Hole Research Center, a partner to IPAM and Boston University. The evidence alerts to the urgency in ceasing the processes degradation and achieving zero deforestation in the Amazon. The authors, who have also created a remote sensing tool to measure emissions from deforestation and degradation, remind us that Latin America is responsible for 60% of counted emissions.

“Tropical forests act as a large carbon savings account. Forest degradation and deforestation however deplete the savings”, explains Paulo Brando, an IPAM researcher. “In other words, if we stopped degrading the forest and cutting down trees, carbon assimilation would be gigantic, bringing balance and a positive equilibrium”.

The results are the fruits of 12 years of satellite information with field research. This is the first time that a study with this level of detail is published.

Forest fires, wood extraction and long dry periods are responsible for approximately 70% of emissions against 30% caused by deforestation which caused surprise among researchers.

“The forest is not doing what it we thought it was doing. Forest volume is no longer sufficient to offset emissions”, said researcher Alessandro Baccini, one of the study’s authors, to The Guardian. According to Baccini, the only way to reverse the situation is to recuperate devastated areas.

Brazil may have record forest fires in 2017

Brazil has already recorded this year, more than 204 thousand fires. Almost half of them (49%) were in the Amazon rainforest. This is already very close to the record of 270 thousand in  de 270 in 2004. In 90% of cases, the fires are caused by humans.

The satelites of Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) – which possesses the most robust fire monitoring system in the world – has shown dozens of preservation areas affected ou destroyed by fire. The National Park of Araguaia has recently lost 320 hectares in a fire. Twice the area of São Paulo city and more than half of the Park’s area of 555 thousand hectares. National Xingu Park, also seriously affected, has been burning for over 30 days.

Studies conducted at the Tanguro Farm, in Mato Grosso, by IPAM researchers, show that if a dry period like that of 2010 occurs in the middle of the century, an area of cerca 550 thousand km2, larger than France, will be vulnerable to intense forest fires.

Another study shows that land usage, together with extreme climactic events, make tropical forests more humid and less flammable. These fires, in the long term, will convert such forests into savannas – forests degraded by human action – and carbon collection will be severely affected.

 

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