Can Rainforests Continue to Absorb Carbon in the Future?

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Record “once in a century” droughts have hit the Amazon rainforest twice in less than 10 years. Minimal rainfall in 2005 left extensive areas of the rainforest at their driest levels in living history, but 2010 witnessed more droughts that destroyed billions more trees. This has led to concerns by many leading scientists that the Amazon could begin to emit more carbon than it absorbs over the coming years.

It is well documented that our rainforests are vital in playing a part as a carbon sink, absorbing substantial levels of CO2 and cleansing the atmosphere. The problem is that not only are there less trees to assimilate CO2, but that the trees that were killed are releasing carbon as they rot. Studies suggest that approximately 8 billion metric tonnes of carbon may be emitted as a consequence of the droughts, more than the amount of CO2 produced by the whole of China in 2009.

The worry is that these high levels of CO2 could culminate in a positive feedback loop where we see even more droughts and further rainforest destruction and runaway climate change. It is important to take into account these findings are estimates. No-one will understand the extent of the harm until exhaustive analysis has been finished, however the fact remains that the long term effects of climate change are expected to have devastating effects on the vital functions of our tropical forests. Now, more than ever, we urgently should protect the remaining rainforests to ensure bio-diversity and the way of life of the many indigenous individuals who live in them.