Large portions of the Amazon rainforest, the so-called lungs of the Earth, now emit more carbon than they absorb, according to a new study.
A team of Brazilian researchers used small planes to measure the carbon-dioxide content of the air above the forest floor for nearly a decade, collecting around 600 samples. Forests are miraculous carbon-reducing machines — when working well. But according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the Amazon is suffering from devastating damage that is dampening its ability to act as a carbon sink.
The bulk of the damage is caused by fires, many deliberately set to clear land for cattle, according to researchers. That burning produces around three times more carbon dioxide than the forest absorbs; in places where rampant deforestation is 30 percent or more, in the eastern part of the Amazon, carbon emissions are ten times higher than in less deforested areas in its west. Those emissions accelerate climate change and drought, further reducing the forest’s capacity to suck excess carbon from the air.
Deforestation in the rainforest has rocketed up since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” took office in 2019. Last year, it reached a 12-year high. “We need a global agreement to save the Amazon,” lead researcher Luciana Gatti said. “Imagine if we could prohibit fires in the Amazon — it could be a carbon sink. But we are doing the opposite — we are accelerating climate change.”