The Amazon rainforest- home to over 30 million people and the largest rainforest on the planet, is a healthy and rich ecosystem. However, the Amazon rainforest is in danger due to deforestation, climate change, and fires. So Is Amazon rainforest dying?
Over the past few centuries, the average temperature in the Amazon has risen by around 1-1.5 degree Celsius. In some parts of the forest, the dry season has been prolonged for the last 50 years- from 4 months to 5 months. Extreme droughts have occurred in the region three times since 2005. This significantly affects the forest.
Simultaneously, large parts of the forest are being destroyed and burnt. Deforestation is a huge problem in the Amazon. In 2019, deforestation in Brazil increased by 30 percent to around 10,000 km2- the largest loss in a decade. Fires in the forest are also increasing- the month of August reports the highest number of fires.
As global warming, deforestation, and fires keep increasing, the Amazon forest and its inhabitants are more in danger. Thus, Scientists have warned that the Amazon rainforest is dying and will soon dry out, affecting both people and the environment.
There was little hope for the Amazon rainforest during the turn of the century. Tree clearing rates in the forest significantly reduced between 2004 and 2012. However, since 2012, it has begun increasing again. In 2020, deforestation in the Amazon was up to its highest rate of the decade.
According to projections in 2018, the Amazon forest could handle the loss of around 20 to 25 percent of its forest area before turning into a dry ecosystem. This can occur as losing trees changes the weather patterns in a region- as trees give and take moisture from the air. Thus, a certain amount of tree clearing could cause enough atmospheric change to collapse the entire rainfall system.
In 2020, experts tried to estimate the exact amount of forest loss in the Amazon. They found that nearly 11 percent of the rainforest was cleared, while 17 percent was significantly disturbed. It is important to note that disturbance is not the same as deforestation. Clearing and burning trees and forests to make space for agricultural activities is deforestation. A degraded or disturbed forest, which is burned, has roads constructed in it, and is degraded by human interventions and disturbances- is still a forest.
Disturbances such as these are not at all good for the health of the forest. One disturbance can lead to more and more. For example, if a large part of a forest is burnt. Only a few plants and trees may survive the fire. In a rich and healthy forest, the area of land burnt may be able to recover its vegetation within a couple of years.
However, in a disturbed forest, there are chances that invasive species- planted for pastures in neighbouring areas- may grow in spaces left by dead vegetation. Invasive grasses will likely compete with native plants and trees, creating obstacles to forest regeneration. Deforestation results in increased human disturbances- bringing more people, construction of roads, etc., to the core of forests. And this is all happening in the Amazon.
Forest To Desert
Human-induced climate change adds to the degradation of the Amazon rainforest. According to the latest news, some areas of the western Amazon Basin have gotten more rainfall than usual- more than seven extra inches of rain every year since 1982. However, the eastern and southern parts of the Amazon forests, where deforestation is carried out on a large scale, do not receive much rainfall and are getting drier.
Those regions’ dry season is increasing yearly- around one day per year. This is one of climate change’s impacts- where drier regions get drier and wetter regions to get wetter. It is already taking place in the Amazon rainforest. Drier regions will likely increase the chances of fires, triggering other aggravated systems.
According to studies and documentation by satellite imagery and other visual means, several trees start shedding their leaves when extreme droughts affect a region. Some even die across large landscapes. Researchers studying a severe drought that affected the Amazon in 2005 found that the forest can gradually recover. However, the forest can take more than four years to recover all the lost vegetation.
If the drought return cycle hits four years- likely to occur due to climate change- the next disturbance will be the last one. The entire forest will die, trees will not grow again, invasive grasses will take over, and fires will increase.
Coming back to the question: Is the Amazon rainforest dying? The forest is dying, and humans are the ones responsible for it. Unless drastic measures are taken today to save the Amazon, the world will lose its largest rainforest.
The topmost priority is to stop deforestation and promote the growth of forests in degraded regions. Forest restoration has a high potential in recently burnt and cleared areas. Restoration of the Amazon is possible only if we act now.