“This carbon sink seems to be in decline,” the study said. “Over the past 40 years, eastern Amazonia has been subjected to more deforestation, warming and moisture stress than the western part, especially during the dry season.”
Over nine years, researchers led by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research conducted close to 600 flights over four main sites in the Brazilian Amazon, collecting data on the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere.
These damaging factors — deforestation, land burning, and effects of climate change — “may have lasting, negative consequences for both the carbon balance of the region and the fragility of its ecosystems,” warned a news release by Nature.
The Amazon, roughly half the size of the 48 contiguous United States, is the largest rainforest on the planet. Its environment is intricately linked with the balance of its ecosystems, home to countless species of fauna and flora.
But in the past 40 to 50 years alone, the rainforest has undergone tremendous and disruptive change due to human impacts. It has lost 17% of its forest, most of which has been turned into agricultural land for farming and livestock. This, in turn, has caused temperatures to rise and water evaporation to drop, meaning less rainfall.
During the study’s nine years, the southeastern Amazon in particular has switched from a carbon sink to a “substantial carbon source,” as deforestation and fires increased in frequency and severity, the study said. These factors, along with global climate change, are causing temperatures to increase steadily — and “these changes appear to be accelerating,” it added.