The Amazon rainforest could become a net source (emitter) rather than a sink (retainer) of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas that predates human industrial activity. Carbon dioxide is a gas that retains heat and contributes to Earth’s greenhouse effect, making it hotter as atmospheric carbon levels increase. Plants and vegetation, absorb carbon dioxide, making them excellent “sinks”.

Sinks, like bodies of water or trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere, thereby reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, effectively lowering the heat-trapping index. Currently, 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 produces. Clearing and burning vegetation decreases the amount of carbon that can be absorbed and stored.

What Changes In the Amazon Are Causing Concern?

Carbon that’s been stored in plants is released when the vegetation is cleared. Carbon released from plants is usually released as carbon dioxide. 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 can be grouped into two distinct causes: droughts and human activity.

The Amazon rainforest 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, by virtue of the sheer density of plant life. The biodiversity of the Amazon basin make its soil exceptionally rich, and thus comparatively more efficient at carbon absorption.

forest of dead trees

Increases In Droughts and Fires Are the Result of A Warming Climate

Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide magnifies the greenhouse gas effect- causing global warming. Increasing average global temperatures creates an atmosphere that collects, retains and precipitates more water- worsening natural disasters, including storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts. Temperature affects the evaporation and transpiration of water and can thereby worsen dry seasons and increase the frequency of droughts. Enhancing evaporation and transpiration in vegetation not only worsens instances of droughts, but it also makes plants more flammable. Fires, of course, reduce plant populations even more.

As plants become less abundant in the Amazon rainforest, its carbon sinking potential shrinks. As it presently stands, most experts and ecologists estimate that the Amazon basin is a net sink rather than a net source of carbon. However, without is vast population of trees and vegetation, we can soon expect the Amazon basin to release more carbon (from burning and clearing) than it absorbs from the atmosphere.

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