Persistent drought has taken a major toll on Africa’s Congo rainforest, with large-scale browning intensifying and affecting a growing portion of the forest over the past decade, an analysis of NASA satellite data shows. A browning trend significantly dwarfed smaller areas of “greening” — a satellite-derived indicator of forest health — during April, May, and June each year from 2000 to 2012, according to research published in Nature.
The browning of Congo’s rainforest is significant, researchers said, because most climate models forecast that tropical forests may face increasing stress and rainfall shortages in a warmer and drier 21st century. A continued drying trend might alter the composition and structure of the Congo rainforest, affecting its biodiversity and carbon storage, the study said.
“Forests of the Congo basin are known to be resilient to moderate climate change because they have been exposed to dry conditions in the past few hundred years,” a NASA researcher said. “However, the recent climate anomalies as a result of climate change and warming of the Atlantic Ocean have created severe droughts in the tropics, causing major impacts on forests.