OCT 07, 2020 5:41 PM PDT

The conversion of the Amazon rainforest into savanna may be on the horizon

More dim news from the Amazon: more of the rainforest is at risk of becoming a savanna than previously believed. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, are the result of new data analyses and computer models.

The analysis looks at the levels of rainfall and moisture in the region. If precipitation levels drop past a particular threshold, scientists fear rainforest habitats will transform into savannas.

"By using the latest available atmospheric data and teleconnection models, we were able to simulate the downwind effects of the disappearance of forests for all tropical forests. By integrating these analyses over the entire tropics, the picture of the systematic stability of tropical forests emerged," says Obbe Tuinenburg, who is a visiting scientist at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Reduced rainfall in certain parts of the Amazon is a consequence of climate change; scientists predict this pattern will continue and even become worse in the coming years.

"In around 40% of the Amazon, the rainfall is now at a level where the forest could exist in either state -- rainforest or savanna, according to our findings," says lead author Arie Staal, who was previously a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University.

In order to investigate rainforest resiliency, the researchers asked themselves the following questions: what if all the forests in the tropics disappeared, where would they grow back? And inversely, what happens if rainforests covered the entire tropical region of Earth?

The computer models that the team ran allowed the scientists to capture the complex climate forces at work in rainforests. "The dynamics of tropical forests is interesting. As forests grow and spread across a region this affects rainfall -- forests create their own rain because leaves give off water vapor and this falls as rain further downwind. Rainfall means fewer fires leading to even more forests. Our simulations capture this dynamic," Staal explains. "As forests shrink, we get less rainfall downwind and this causes drying leading to more fire and forest loss: a vicious cycle."

They saw this dynamic explicitly in the Amazon, showing perhaps unsurprisingly that as greenhouse gas emissions increase, more and more of the Amazon loses resiliency, drying out and teetering precariously on the edge of becoming savanna.

Photo: Pexels

"We understand now that rainforests on all continents are very sensitive to global change and can rapidly lose their ability to adapt," says Ingo Fetzer of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. "Once gone, their recovery will take many decades to return to their original state. And given that rainforests host the majority of all global species, all this will be forever lost."

Sources: Nature Communications, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
OCT 27, 2020
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
While there is certainly a fair amount of warranted pessimism about the future of our planet, there is also warranted op ...
DEC 18, 2020
Microbiology
Wildfire Health Hazards Include Airborne Microbes
DEC 18, 2020
Wildfire Health Hazards Include Airborne Microbes
Research has shown that air pollution & smoke can have serious detrimental health effects. Now scientists have revealed ...
JAN 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Monitoring elephant populations with satellites and deep learning
JAN 21, 2021
Monitoring elephant populations with satellites and deep learning
An exciting development in conservation comes in the form of an automated system that captures high-resolution satellite ...
JAN 26, 2021
Earth & The Environment
For the soil, for us all!
JAN 26, 2021
For the soil, for us all!
A recent report released from The Microbiology Society features soil health as one of the most urgent areas of concern. ...
FEB 10, 2021
Cardiology
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
FEB 10, 2021
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
While many studies have shown that air pollution is linked to negative health impacts including poor cardiovascular heal ...
MAR 03, 2021
Plants & Animals
Can Arctic Bearded Seals Compete with Human Noise?
MAR 03, 2021
Can Arctic Bearded Seals Compete with Human Noise?
Vocal communication is a primary key to survival for many species, including the Arctic Ocean's bearded seals. Accor ...
Loading Comments...