NASA Warns Human Activities Are Drying Out the Amazon

NASA Warns Human Activities Are Drying Out the Amazon

A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

One scientist said that "if this continues, the forest may no longer be able to sustain itself," which would seriously hamper efforts to limit global temperature rise and avert climate catastrophe.

As thousands of intentional fires continued to burn up swaths of the world's largest and most biodiverse rainforest Tuesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration warned that based on 20 years of ground and satellite data, "human activities are drying out the Amazon" and jeopardizing its ability to sustain itself.

The findings have experts at NASA and beyond concerned about the implications for the Amazon, a rainforest that annually pulls billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which helps to limit global temperature rise and prevent more catastrophic climate change.

"We observed that in the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in dryness in the atmosphere as well as in the atmospheric demand for water above the rainforest," said Armineh Barkhordarian, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the study published last month in Scientific Reports.

"In comparing this trend to data from models that estimate climate variability over thousands of years," she continued, "we determined that the change in atmospheric aridity is well beyond what would be expected from natural climate variability."

Barkhordarian pointed to elevated greenhouse gas levels and ongoing human activity—specifically, fires set to clear forest land for agriculture and other uses—as key drivers of the increase in dryness, or what the study described as a "recent increasing trend in vapor pressure deficit (VPD) over tropical South America in dry months."

As for how the drying trend impacts the rainforest's ability to sustain itself and help regulate the global climate, NASA researcher and study co-author Sassan Saatchi explained that "it's a matter of supply and demand."

"With the increase in temperature and drying of the air above the trees, the trees need to transpire to cool themselves and to add more water vapor into the atmosphere. But the soil doesn't have extra water for the trees to pull in," Saatchi said. "Our study shows that the demand is increasing, the supply is decreasing and if this continues, the forest may no longer be able to sustain itself."

Biologist and activist Sandra Steingraber, who was not involved in the NASA study, told Newsweek that "fully half of the the carbon dioxide that is pulled out of atmosphere by the biosphere on land is pulled out by tropical forests."

"The Amazon is a big carbon sink but its ability to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is declining," Steingraber warned. "This will contribute to climate chaos, turning tropical forests from a global carbon sink to a global carbon source."

NASA's findings come amid rising concerns about human destruction of the Amazon—particularly under Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January. Although Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon, has made strides in protecting the rainforest in recent decades, Bolsonaro's government has "scaled back efforts to fight illegal logging, ranching, and mining."

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Bolsonaro claimed that his government "is solemnly committed to environmental preservation" and dismissed international criticism about this summer's spike in deforestation and corresponding fires in the Brazilian Amazon as "sensationalist attacks."

However, critics such as Márcio Astrini, public policy coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, said that "the president's speech about the environment was a scam" and "Bolsonaro is trying to convince the world that he is protecting the Amazon, when in reality he is promoting the dismantlement of the environment."

About The Author

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

This article originally appeared on Common Dreams

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}