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Explained: why the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it can absorb

Jul 22, 2021 11:57 IST | By Vishakha Somani

The Amazon rainforest, which covers most of north-western Brazil and extends into other South American countries, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. While we’ve all grown up hearing about how forests help clean the air and oxygenate the Earth, human actions seem to have flipped the script.

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The Amazon jungle may no longer be the carbon sink of the world, finds an alarming new study. Published in the journal Nature, the research says that parts of the rainforest are now emitting more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases than they can absorb. This is mostly due to large fires, often set off by humans.

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The study adds to growing fears of the potentially catastrophic impact of deforestation, land burning and droughts on the Amazon’s fragile ecosystem which is home to nearly a fifth of the world’s land species.  
The research team found that eastern Amazonia, which has been subjected to most deforestation, warming and moisture stress now emits 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year but is able to only absorb about 120 million metric tons. This leaves out a whopping 290 million metric tons in net emissions. 

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The study’s lead author explained that in places where deforestation is 30% or more, the carbon emissions were 10 times compared to places with less than 20% deforestation. 

What’s more, a similar study published in Nature Climate Change earlier this year used a different assessment method but came to a very similar conclusion. In more damning evidence, a 2020 study had said that the entire Amazon, which is about twice the size of India, could soon flip to become a net carbon source by as early as 2050. 

But the battle may not be over yet. Offering some hope, the team underscored two possible solutions to help reverse the damage. They suggest curbing illegal logging and other large-scale human disturbances of forests as well as investigations into fire-fighting solutions for the Amazon.

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Explained: why the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it can absorb

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Explained: why the Amazon rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it can absorb

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