Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Amazon is dying

The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.

Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down.

Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable.... [emphasis mine - sorry Gar!]

The trees managed the first year of drought without difficulty. In the second year, they sunk their roots deeper to find moisture, but survived. But in year three, they started dying. Beginning with the tallest the trees started to come crashing down, exposing the forest floor to the drying sun.

By the end of the year the trees had released more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide they have stored during their lives, helping to act as a break on global warming. Instead they began accelerating the climate change.

...the Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility that it could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent.
Anybody know where I can buy a good escape pod?

UPDATE: Gar says that the words "world becoming uninhabitable" need greater explanation, and I agree. I'm looking for the original research to figure out what the researcher meant. If anyone has access to the journal Global Change Biology, let me know in comments or via email.

UPDATE II: Just got an email back from the main researcher, Daniel Nepstad. He says that an official response is on its way, but for now "The Independent writers never interviewed [the scientists], and their article is full of errors."

My God. They didn't even interview the researchers? I've never even been to Journalism school, and I would think at some point they would have covered the whole "talk to your subjects" thing.


Anonymous said...

I'm presuming the "end in the world becoming uninhabitable" was intended to be a link. At any rate, that particular phrase needs a link or more explanation.

Gar. W. Lipow

john said...

Nope, not a link - just meant for emphasis. I'll clean up the post.

Anonymous said...

Glad you will get a followup from the original researchers.

Over at Real Climate

where some of the world's leading climate scientists posts they are concerned over and above just explaining the pure science.

One is to rebut the deniers - the people who claim warming is not happening, not human caused, or will not have serious consequences if left unchecked.

But the second is to rebut people who overstate. Not every environmental problem is due to global warming. It is really unlikely that unchecked global warming would lead to human extinction. (My personal opinion is that it is ending our techological civilization is a real possibility.)

They dealt with this in a recent post

Gar Lipow

Bloggofascist said...

"I would think at some point they would have covered the whole "talk to your subjects" thing"

That's /old/ journalism. /New/ journalism is about not pissing off the advertisers or the people who throw the swanky in-crowd parties.

Sadly, parties by scientists are not considered "in", at least not since since scientists stopped passing out ether.

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