Will the Amazon shortly become a carbon emitter?

redd monitor asks if the Amazon is at a tipping point where it will cease to store carbon and rather start emitting it.

Both the 2005 and 2010 Amazon droughts were called once in a lifetime droughts. During both droughts huge amounts of carbon were released into the atmosphere as trees died and released the carbon they had bound.

“In a recent short paper in Science magazine, researchers
from the UK and Brazil report on “The 2010 Amazon Drought,” (subscription required). They write that the Amazon could be moving towards a tipping point, beyond which it will accelerate climate change, rather than slowing it:

The two recent Amazon droughts demonstrate a mechanism by which remaining intact tropical forests of South America can shift from buffering the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide to accelerating it.”


“The lead author of the Science paper, Simon Lewis from the University of Leeds, said in a press release:

“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.””

Feedback amplified:

“In the Leeds University press release, Lewis spells out in more colourful language, what increasing greenhouse gas emissions might mean for the Amazon:

“If greenhouse gas emissions contribute to Amazon droughts that in turn cause forests to release carbon, this feedback loop would be extremely concerning. Put more starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world’s largest rainforest.””

A World Bank report, “Assessment of the Risk of Amazon Dieback”, is referenced, noting

“The report notes that Amazon forest dieback is one of “four major, non-linear, positive-feedback responses to global warming with the potential to create major disruptions in global climate”. (The other three are the slowing of the North Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation, the breakup of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and methane emissions from melting permafrost.)

The World Bank report is long, and it has some omissions (such as the impact of World Bank projects on deforestation in the Amazon) but the message is clear. The Amazon is at risk due to climate change. Large amounts of the carbon currently stored in the Amazon’s forests could be released – sooner than previously predicted.”

In a comment to the ewdd monitor post, “A Witness” says:

“The other conclusion one could reasonably draw from both Simon Lewis’s work and the World Bank report (especially if combined with the ‘real world’ problems that Norway is experiencing in trying to make REDD happen in countries like Indonesia and Guyana) is that the Stern-derived claim that REDD is going to be the ‘cheapest and easiest’ means of mitigating climate change is now shown to be nothing but wishful, if not desperate, thinking.”

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