Since the dawn of the industrial age, our planet’s forests have progressively become smaller, with several man-made factors playing a part in widespread deforestation. These forests include the Amazon Rainforest, which researchers believe might be headed to the “point of no return,” should deforestation progress beyond 20 percent of its original scope.
In an article published this week in the journal Science Advances, researchers Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre discussed what they referred to as the Amazon’s “tipping point,” a threshold denoting the amount of deforestation that would make it impossible for the forest’s hydrological cycle to support its ecosystem. Aside from deforestation, the article’s authors mentioned a few “new forcing factors” that have further compromised the Amazon’s hydrological cycle, including climate change and the “widespread” use of fire to remove weeds and felled trees.
The researchers cited earlier studies, which suggested that four degrees Celsius of global warming could turn multiple parts of the Amazon into “degraded” savannas. As for the second additional factor, they stressed that the usage of fire could cause surrounding vegetation to dry up, and put the forest at a greater risk of fire for the next year or so.
Given the “negative synergies” between deforestation, climate change, and the use of fire, the researchers believe that the aforementioned tipping point could be at around 20 to 25 percent deforestation in eastern, central, and southern Amazonia. With about 17 percent of the Amazon Rainforest’s vegetation having been gutted by deforestation over the past five decades, the findings suggest that the forest could potentially become a lost cause if an additional three percent gets affected.
Speaking to Euronews, Nobre stressed that climate change, regardless of whether it’s driven by more deforestation or by global warming, could transform more than half of the forest into a “degraded savanna.”
“The fact that deforestation continues is a bit of a demonstration of the difficulty, or almost bankruptcy, of representative democracy in our South American countries,” Nobre added.
Lovejoy and Nobre mentioned several events that took place over the past 15 years to hint that the Amazon Rainforest is reaching its ecological tipping point. These included droughts in 2005, 2010, and 2015, as well as the floods of 2009, 2012, and 2014, all of which combined to disrupt the Amazon ecosystem. In addition to those events, the researchers added that there might be other variables involved, including the warming of the sea surface temperature over the North Atlantic Ocean.
In a report that cited Lovejoy and Nobre’s article on the Amazon Rainforest’s deforestation threshold, Futurism opined that the “right kind of human intervention” could be a useful tool in curbing the problem. The researchers also suggested that South American countries should focus on reaching their reforestation goals for the Amazon, and specifically center their efforts on southern and eastern Amazonia.