Severe Amazon Rainforest Droughts Due To Climate Change, Says NASA

Kim Meyer

NASA says an area in the Amazon rainforest, twice the size of California, is experiencing a "megadrought" caused by climate change.

The Amazon has been hit hard with droughts. The first drought hit in 2005. The rainforest was still recovering when another drought hit in 2010.

The widespread drought damage may be a sign the rainforest is showing signs of a large-scale degradation due to climate change, says a research team led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). According to Global Post, the drought has destroyed 70 million hectares of forest and is pulling off its canopy. The canopy is important to lower vegetation because the canopy protects the lower vegetation from sunlight.

The JPL analyzed data over the past decade. They looked at rainfall measurements and the forest canopy's moisture content. The two droughts may mean the region, called the Amazonia, will suffer long lasting damage. The data also showed the Amazonia is receiving less rainfall each year. Ground stations have reported the Amazon's average rainfall dropped 3.2 percent per year from 1970 to 1998. Climate analysis from 1995 to 2005 shows a decline in water availability in the forest. The period of water decline may have made the damage from the new drought worse.

CBS News reports Yadvinder Malhi of Oxford University and co-author of the study said:

"The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the 2005 drought. We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010."

Amazon rainforest drough in 2010

Amazon rainforest drough in 2010

"Our results suggest that if droughts continue at five- to 10-year intervals or increase in frequency due to climate change, large areas of the Amazon forest are likely to be exposed to persistent effects of droughts and corresponding slow forest recovery. This may alter the structure and function of Amazonian rainforest ecosystems."