Climate shift, forest loss and fires -- Scientists explain how Amazon forest is trapped in a vicious circle

July 22, 2020

Amazonia experiences seasonal fires each year. More than 90% of the fires are distributed across the southern boundary of Amazon Basin where the vegetation dominated by savannas are flammable in the dry season. In recent decades, however, more fires have been reported in the Amazon forests. The 2019 Amazon fires surged to a record high.

A new study, published in Global Change Biology, showed how the fire expansion is attributed to climate regime shift and forest loss. The study was led by scientists from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"I have not been to the Amazon forest but I took a photo of it from my window seat when I was in a plane flying over the Amazon in 2018 fire season. It pained me to think such intense greenness and freshness might have been scorched," said Prof. Gensuo Jia from IAP, one of the authors of the study.

Global climate change and local deforestation have been blamed as main drivers behind fire intensification. "However, mechanisms and interactive effects are largely ignored and not understood," said Jia.

According to this study, the Amazon fire regime has been expanding from the flammable savannas to moist tropical forests and the fire season was initialized much earlier than two decades ago.

"The fire expansion is a result of more extreme climate events which made the forest more vulnerable. Intensive forest loss which warmed and dried the lower atmosphere therefore increased fire susceptibility," said Xiyan Xu, the first author of the study, "fire exacerbates forest loss and results in a vicious cycle."

Fire burning data derived from satellites observation indicated more fires occurring along the "Arc of Deforestation", a curve at the southeastern edge of the forest where deforestation is the most rapid. In the study, they used multiple satellite data products and climate reanalysis to ensure consistency and reliability.

The Amazon forest is getting dryer and more fire susceptible due to coupled changes of climate seasonality, forest loss, and wildfire. Such positive feedback greatly undermines the sustainability of Amazon region.

"Climate change mitigation and sustainable land management are key to avoid or at least postpone the 'tipping point' of the Amazon forest," said Xu. The "tipping point" is a threshold when the forest loss causes an abrupt or irreversible change in parts of the Earth system.
-end-
This study was supported by the Natural Science Foundation and National Key R&D Program of China, Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research, Regional and Global Climate Modeling program through the RUBISCO Scientific Focus Area.

Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Related Deforestation Articles from Brightsurf:

Degradation outpaces deforestation in Brazilian Amazon
The area of the Brazilian Amazon affected by forest degradation--where forest biomass is lost but not completely converted to another use--is greater than the area affected by deforestation, according to a long-term study by Eraldo Aparecido Trondoli Matricardi and colleagues.

Growing demand for zero-deforestation cacao might not help Colombian forests
Cacao in Colombia is not a major driver of deforestation - yet.

Small-farm tech reduces deforestation, climate change
Small farms in Zambia that use the latest hybrid seed for maize, help reduce deforestation and tackle climate change in a new Cornell University study.

The complex relationship between deforestation and diet diversity in the Amazon
As increasing areas of the Amazonian rainforest are converted into agricultural land, scientists are examining how this is linked with local communities' food access.

Why are we still failing to stop deforestation?
While national and international efforts to reverse the trend of deforestation have multiplied in recent years, there is still no clear evidence to suggest that these initiatives are actually working.

Stopping deforestation: lessons from Colombia
A study of deforestation in Colombia by researchers from The University of Queensland has revealed some valuable insights which could be used to help slow deforestation in areas around the globe.

Climate may play a bigger role than deforestation in rainforest biodiversity
In a study on small mammal biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest, researchers found that climate may affect biodiversity in rainforests even more than deforestation does.

Study finds deforestation is changing animal communication
Deforestation is changing the way monkeys communicate in their natural habitat, according to a new study.

Geographers find tipping point in deforestation
University of Cincinnati geography researchers have identified a tipping point for deforestation that leads to rapid forest loss.

Amazon deforestation has a significant impact on the local climate in Brazil
The loss of forest cover in the Amazon has a significant impact on the local climate in Brazil, according to a new study.

Read More: Deforestation News and Deforestation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.