The Amazon rainforest is taking a much worse beating from human-activity than was previously estimated, according to new research from an international group headed by Lancaster University.
With said gross underestimation of human impact, the researchers also found that carbon loss is being grossly underestimated well.
The underestimation is due to previous models not fully taking into account the great losses caused by selective logging and surface wildfires — up to 54 billion tonnes of carbon yearly lost yearly, just from the Brazilian Amazon. That’s roughly the equivalent to 40% of the whole, world-wide yearly carbon loss from large-scale deforestation, and its accompanying effects.
This research represents the biggest-ever study exploring the subject — “estimating above and below-ground carbon loss from selective logging and ground level forest fires in the tropics, based on data from 70,000 sampled trees and thousands of soil, litter and dead wood samples from 225 sites in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.”
Lancaster University provides more:
The forest degradation often starts with logging of prized trees such as mahogany and ipe. The felling and removal of these large trees often damages dozens of neighbouring trees. Once the forest has been logged, the many gaps in the canopy means it becomes much drier due to exposure to the wind and sun, increasing the risk of wildfires spreading inside the forest.
The combination of selective logging and wildfires damages turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests. So far, climate change policies on the tropics have effectively been focusing on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation only, not accounting for emissions coming from forest degradation.
Lead researcher Dr Erika Berenguer from Lancaster University explained thusly: “The impacts of fire and logging in tropical forests have always been largely overlooked by both the scientific community and policy makers who are primarily concerned with deforestation. Yet our results show how these disturbances can severely degrade the forest, with huge amounts of carbon being transferred from plant matter straight into the atmosphere.”
Second author, Dr Joice Ferreira from Embrapa in Brazil, echoed that: “Our findings also draw attention to the necessity for Brazil to implement more effective policies for reducing the use of fire in agriculture, as fires can both devastate private property, and escape into surrounding forests causing widespread degradation. Bringing fire and illegal logging under control is key to reaching our national commitment to reducing carbon emissions.”
The new findings are set to published in the journal Global Change Biology on June 3.
Kind of makes you want to hug a tree, doesn’t it?
Image Credit: Jos Barlow