Amazon Drought Released More CO2 than India’s Annual Emissions

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A drought that affected large areas of the Amazon rainforest in 2010 triggered the release of about 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide, more than the total annual CO2 emissions of India, according to a new study.

After combining a NASA carbon cycle simulation model and satellite data that reflects the “greenness” — or light interception capacity — of forest canopies, researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center found that net primary production in some forest areas decreased by an average of 7 percent compared with 2008 data. The drought not only reduced the amount of CO2 absorbed by the rainforest, but the drying of normally flooded areas also released large amounts of CO2 through the decomposition of soil and dead wood.

According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the results suggest “a more widespread and long-lasting impact to Amazonian forests than what could be inferred based solely on rainfall data.”

While the NASA scientists said the effects could ultimately be offset by plant growth when normal conditions resume, other researchers warn that an increase in severe droughts could portend the collapse of the Amazonian rainforest system.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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