False Alarm (no 2575): Amazon Rainforest More Resilient To Climate Change Than Thought

  • Date: 07/02/13
  • Alister Doyle, Reuters

The Amazon rainforest is less vulnerable to die off because of global warming than widely believed because the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide also acts as an airborne fertilizer, a study showed on Wednesday.

An overview of the Carajas National Forest in the Amazon Basin, where Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce operates the world's largest iron ore mine Ferro Carajas, and is awaiting a preliminary environmental license to start an even larger one, named Serra Sul, in Para State, May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

An overview of the Carajas National Forest in the Amazon Basin, where Brazil’s Companhia Vale do Rio Doce operates the world’s largest iron ore mine Ferro Carajas, and is awaiting a preliminary environmental license to start an even larger one, named Serra Sul, in Para State, May 29, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Lunae Parracho

The boost to growth from CO2, the main gas from burning fossil fuels blamed for causing climate change, was likely to exceed damaging effects of rising temperatures this century such as drought, it said.

“I am no longer so worried about a catastrophic die-back due to CO2-induced climate change,” Professor Peter Cox of the University of Exeter in England told Reuters of the study he led in the journal Nature. “In that sense it’s good news.”

Cox was also the main author of a much-quoted study in 2000 that projected that the Amazon rainforest might dry out from about 2050 and die off because of warming. Others have since suggested fires could transform much the forest into savannah.

Plants soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it as an ingredient to grow leaves, branches and roots. Stored carbon gets released back to the atmosphere when plants rot or are burnt.

A retreat of the Amazon forests, releasing vast stores of carbon, could in turn aggravate global warming that is projected to cause more floods, more powerful storms and raise world sea levels by melting ice sheets.

“CO2 fertilization will beat the negative effect of climate change so that forests will continue to accumulate carbon throughout the 21st century,” Cox said of the findings with other British-based researchers.

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