Several factors are pushing the Amazon towards a "tipping point."

Tipping Point

Large parts of the Amazon’s iconic rainforest are nearing an irreversible "tipping point" and collapse in less than 30 years due to deforestation and climate change, scientists warn in a new paper published in the journal Nature.

It's a grim vision of "compounding disturbances": that nearly half the Amazon could by 2050 transform into either scrubby savannah fields, forest with low tree cover and open canopy, or a degraded forest that has "recovered" from environmental disturbances but is filled with many invasive "opportunistic plants."

"To maintain the Amazon forest within safe boundaries, local and global efforts must be combined," said coauthor Niklas Boers, a professor of Earth System Modelling at the Technical University of Munich, in a statement. "Deforestation and forest degradation have to end and restoration has to expand. Moreover, much more needs to be done to stop greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide."

Bleak Future

The researchers found that several factors such as deforestation rates, fires, and increasing temperature are what’s driving the Amazon towards a critical tipping point. Keeping these factors in check would prevent the forest from collapsing and degrading.

As an example, look at the connection between rainfall and fires.

"Below 1800 mm per year, abrupt transitions from rainforest to a Savanna-like vegetation become possible," said Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist and study coauthor Da Nian said in the statement. "This can be triggered by individual droughts or forest fires, which both have become more frequent and more severe in recent years."

These drastic changes in the vast biome of the Amazon forest would impact not just regional climate patterns but also global feedback loops. For example, the Amazon is an important carbon sink for the planet, holding hundreds of billions of tons of carbon.

The Amazon’s moisture also impacts rainfall in large parts of South America, making any collapse a catastrophe for not just the forest but large parts of humanity.

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