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Amazon Drought

A woman carries bucket of water on improvised bridge over dry land alongside the Amazon River at Bom Jesus village at the margin of Solimoes river in Amazonas State, Brazil. (Photo: Jose Caldas/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'Should Ring Alarm Bells': Study Warns of Severe Drying for Amazon Rainforest

Findings, says lead researcher, shows "that this vital global resource must not be taken for granted."

Brett Wilkins

Researchers at the University of Leeds in Britain published new research Tuesday—World Rainforest Day—showing that massive swaths of the eastern Amazon are at risk of severe drying by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

"Protecting and expanding existing forests—which absorb and store carbon—is of paramount importance to combating climate change."
—Jessica Baker, Leeds University

Analyzing the results of 38 known Amazon climate models, researchers found that large quantities of carbon dioxide would be released from the forest into the atmosphere as a result of drying, exacerbating the greenhouse gas effect and further fueling climate change.

Severe droughts in the Amazon would also adversely affect the rainforest's water cycle, biodiversity, and Indigenous peoples who live there.

"People in Brazil and across the globe are rightly concerned about what the future holds for the Amazon, and its valuable store of carbon and biodiversity," said study lead author Jessica Baker of the School of Earth and the Environment at Leeds University. "The Amazon is at risk from the twin threats of deforestation and climate change."

"This new study sheds light on how the Amazon climate is likely to change under an extreme warming scenario," Baker continued. "It should ring alarm bells for governments around the world that this vital global resource must not be taken for granted. Protecting and expanding existing forests—which absorb and store carbon—is of paramount importance to combating climate change."

Caio Coelho, co-author of the study and a researcher at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil—which is home to over half of the rainforest—said that "it's important to understand how the climate of the Amazon might change in the future."

"This study shows that dry season rainfall reductions in parts of the Amazon could be similar to the drying seen during the major Amazon droughts of 2005 and 2010, which caused widespread tree mortality and had major impacts for Amazon communities," Coelho added.

A 2019 study by researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California revealed that the atmosphere above the Amazon rainforest has been drying out over the past two decades, primarily as the result of human activity, leaving critical ecosystems increasingly vulnerable to fires and drought.

The eco-advocacy group Greenpeace has accused the climate emergency-denying administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—the self-proclaimed "Captain Chainsaw" and champion of Amazon "development"—of "systematically" dismantling environmental protections.


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