With its vast amount of trees, the Amazon Rainforest has traditionally reduced carbon emissions in the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide. However, in the severe drought conditions of 2005 and 2010, trees lacked the amount of water they needed to live. Trees and forest vegetation absorb carbon dioxide when they grow, but release it when they die. So because of the drought, instead of absorbing 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2010 and 2011, the Rainforest would release 5 billion metric tons, causing a net emission of 8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide to breathe, but release it upon their death. Plants in the amazon rainforest usually trap and absorb 1.5 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere per year, but due to the drought, many of these trees and plants are dying or in a weakened state, leading to lower absorption. In addition to not absorbing as much, it is projected that in the coming years, dying trees and plants will release an additional five tons.
Just to build on the above statements, the amount of carbon dioxide expected to be released by the Amazon Rainforest over the next few years is expected to exceed the total carbon dioxide absorption of the forest over the last decade. This is because of the conjunction of the 2005 (considered at the time a once-in-a-century event) and 2010 droughts, affecting 1.9 and 3 million square kilometers of the forest respectively. If such drought events continue, some scientists have voiced concerns that the Amazon will shift permanently from being a net absorber of carbon (or a carbon “sink”) to a net emitter. Considering the volume of carbon absorption (1.5 billion tonnes is nearly a third of the US’ annual 5 billion tonnes in emissions), this would be a significant blow to the climate.
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