For as long as people have studied the carbon cycle, forests are considered essential carbon sinks. Unfortunately as we damage them, their ability to absorb carbon reduces.
A new study has confirmed, that large parts of the Amazon rainforest have crossed this line.
Why is this concerning? Because the opposite of a carbon sink, is a carbon emitter. Now, don’t read this wrong, cutting down the rainforests would make this problem dramatically worse. This study took air samples from 4 parts of the forest more than 20 times a year for the last 9 years.
This data shows that western Amazonia is still a carbon sink, although weak and getting weaker. Eastern Amazonia, though, tells a different story. Here the forest is so degraded that parts do not absorb any carbon and indeed regions are releasing great quantities.
This problem has the potential to get much worse. Back at the end of the 20th century, the Amazon rainforest absorbed roughly 2 billion tonnes of carbon a year. That has halved, and without significant change in behaviour the problem will only get worse.