The devastating drought currently affecting the Amazon rainforest is part of a vicious cycle created by the combined affects of global warming and deforestation and could cause the collapse of the rainforest, according to scientists from the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment (LBA) in Amazonia and Greenpeace.
The LBA is an international research initiative led by Brazil which aims to create the knowledge needed to understand the climatological, ecological, biogeochemical and hydrological functioning of Amazônia, the impact of land use change on these functions and the interactions between Amazônia and the Earth system.
"Brazil is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate changes in the world because of its invaluable biodiversity. If the Amazon loses more than 40% of its forest cover, we will reach a turning point from where we cannot reverse the savannization process of the world’s largest forest," said Carlos Nobre, from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and President of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP).
Seventeen per cent of the Amazon has been completely wiped out over the past 30 years, according to INPE, and even more has been damaged by destructive and illegal logging and other human activities. Life on Earth depends on ancient forests for its survival. They are the richest most diverse habitats, and help stabilize climate and regulate the weather.
"This drought and its effects are really shocking. Towns are lacking food, medicines and fuel because boats cannot get through," said Carlos Rittl, Greenpeace Brazil’s climate campaigner.
"If the landscape I’ve seen this week is a sign of things to come, we’re in serious trouble. We risk losing the world’s largest rainforest, the network of rivers and invaluable and varied life it sustains, much of which we haven’t even discovered or researched."
Greenpeace has been gathering dramatic images of the worst drought in 40 years in the Amazon this week. The Amazon River basin is at its lowest level in decades.
Floodplains have dried up and people are walking and using bicycles on areas in which canoes and riverboats used to be the only means of transport. Large boats have become stuck in the dry mud and the landscape is covered with thousands of rotting dead fish, which are attracting dozens of vultures.
Amazonian deforestation and fires account for more than 75% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions and place it amongst the top four contributors to global climate change.
"The Amazon is caught between two destructive forces and their combined effects threaten to flip its ecosystems from forest to savannah if measures are not taken to stop deforestation and combat climate change," said Rittl.
Greenpeace is calling on governments to take urgent action to stop deforestation and commit to the massive CO2 reductions needed to protect the Earth’s biodiversity and millions of people who are at risk from the impacts of climate change and ancient forest destruction.
Greenpeace – www.greenpeace.org