The Brazilian Amazon Now Releases More Carbon Than It Stores, New Study Shows

The amount of carbon dioxide released due to the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon has exceeded the amount that the rain forest was able to absorb between 2010 and 2019, according to a new study in the Netherlands Climate Change Journal.

Using satellite data, the authors of the study calculated that the region had seen a net loss of 0.67 billion tons of carbon over the decade, suggesting that Amazon’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere could be a thing of the past. With more than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest lying on the border with Brazil, the country carries enormous strategic importance in the fight against climate change. However, since incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro took office in early 2019, there has been a massive increase in forest upstream due to environmental degradation.

According to the new study, the Amazon rainforest was destroyed in 2019, up 3.9 million hectares, increasing every four years in the previous two years, both of which wiped out about ten million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon deforestation. However, while satellite imagery has allowed scientists to accurately track forests for several years, tracking real changes in forest carbon storage capacity has proven much more difficult.

The authors of the study therefore used new methods of satellite data analysis to calculate the overall changes in the above ground biomass (AGB) over the decades. Doing so allowed them to compare the amount of carbon dioxide rising with the amount released during their destruction. Overall, they found that the Brazilian Amazon emitted about 18 percent more carbon than it exploited during the decade under consideration.

The researchers also noted that a 73 percent of AGB losses could be attributed to flood erosion, with only 27 percent due to upstream deforestation. Erosion refers to an event or practice that damages forests without destroying them, such as selective cutting, fire, and drought. This insight further appreciates a number of factors that affect Amazon’s ability to store carbon and can help in conservation efforts. For example, despite 30 percent more deforestation in 2010 than in 2015, the AGB’s overall damage was actually three times higher in 2015 as the LGO drought caused deforestation and wildfires caused severe degradation across the region.

Explained study author Professor Peter Sitch in a statement, “We all know the importance of the Amazon rainforest for global climate change.” As an example of this study, degradation-driven erosion in biomass is largely responsible for the net carbon release of the Brazilian Amazon over the past decade. On the basis of this finding, Sitch stressed that “degradation is a huge threat to future forest integrity and requires urgent research attention.”