Will the Amazon Rainforest Become A Carbon Source?

forest of dead trees

Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas that cycles through Earth’s sediments, water, soils, plants, animals, air and microscopic organisms. Carbon dioxide has the ability to absorb infrared radiation and re-emit that energy back into the air as heat, some of which remains trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. In short, carbon dioxide magnifies the planet’s greenhouse gas effect.

Sinks, like soils and trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. By reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, carbon sinks lower heat-trapping potential. The Amazon forest region of Brazil is still considered a sink for carbon dioxide- meaning that it consumes more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. However, carbon storage is stunted as plant biomass is lost from burning and clearing. This may transform the Amazon from a carbon sink (retainer) to a net carbon source (emitter).

What Changes In the Amazon Are Causing Concern?

The Amazon contains about half of the Earth’s tropical rainforests; that’s a great deal of carbon sinking potential. The Amazon is more effective at soaking up and storing carbon than other types of forests due to their abundance of vegetation. Sense tropical forests are high in plant biomass, their soils are able to take in tremendous amounts of water and nutrients and draw in carbon dioxide underground.

Much of the carbon that’s been stored in plants is released when the vegetation is cleared or burned. In the past decade, the Amazon has been subjected to a remarkable amount of burning. In the year 2019 particularly, fires engulfed great portions of the Amazon basin. The causes of the Amazonian fires are partly natural, caused by droughts and storms. However, human activity does influence the nature and frequency of wildfires. Anthropogenic global warming (brought about by methane emissions and fossil fuel burning) supplement the conditions necessary for wildfires to occur. Increasingly warmer conditions make soils and plant matter dryer, which act as kindling when a fire breaks out. Evaporation and transpiration of water can therefore worsen dry seasons by ridding forests of moisture.

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