Every year it seems that larger parts of the Amazon rain forests are being burnt to clear land. How much of it is truly remaining? And what happens if it no longer exists?
Amazon rain forests or the Amazon basin as it is understood, is home to the world’s most pristine patch of forests, holding more than 100billion metric tonnes of carbon, equal to 10 times the annual global emissions from fossil fuel burning. These forests disappearing means some serious trouble for life on earth. The latest datasets from the Brazilian National Space Research Institute and the National Geographic indicate that close to 17percent of the rain forest has been destroyed over the last 50 years owing to rampant mining, clearing of land for farming and drilling.
The consequences of completely burning down of amazon rainforests, which are also known as lungs of the earth, are unthinkable. If all the trees of rainforests are burned, the forest’s carbon storage capacity would be lost to the atmosphere. Some of this carbon would be taken up by the oceans, and some by other ecosystems (such as temperate or arctic forests), but no doubt this would exacerbate climate warming.
However, some articles which claim that with burning down of amazon rainforest will reduce 20 percent oxygen of Earth are not stating the true facts. relationships between tropical forests and oxygen are a little more complicated. Sure, growing plants produce oxygen, and tropical rainforests are huge contributors, but it is important to remember that dead and rotting plants—as well as burning plants—consume oxygen to release as a by-product during decomposition and combustion. Often the ratio between a plant producing oxygen in life and consuming oxygen in death is 1:1.
Having said that there are other very serious long-term consequences to destroying Earth’s most biodiverse region. Burning away the Amazon would condemn millions of living species to extinction and destroy their habitats. Many of these plants, animals and other forms of life haven’t even been identified by science yet. Also, the Amazon forest does more than store carbon. It is also responsible for the circulation of huge quantities of water. If the Amazon’s cloud systems and its capacity to recycle water were to be disrupted, the ecosystem would tip over and irreversibly turn into dry savannah very quickly. Lastly if we try reforestation at any other place with the goal to create another similar rainforests it is impossible because it will take a very long period of time and land with the similar geographical conditions which is not available.
The Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in the regional and global climate. It is the largest rainforest globally and may be home to a quarter of the Earth’s land-bound species.
But it is shrinking at an alarming rate. Currently, we are losing one football field of Amazon forest every single minute. Raging fires, deforestation, and global warming are tearing the mighty rainforest apart as we speak, and just this year, there were a record 74,000 fires in Brazil. But if the Amazon did disappear completely, the consequences would be harrowing.
If it keeps burning, it’s likely to turn into a completely different ecosystem, with fewer trees and various species of plants and animals. Nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals, and microorganisms would be destroyed and there would be a massive loss of medical possibilities since 90% of human diseases are treatable with drugs derived from the nature of the Amazon.
There will be more prolonged spells of dry weather and massive amounts of flooding and 5 to 6 times more greenhouse gases would get released, which would speed up the global warming process.
Less rainfall and increased drought would threaten agriculture, water, and food supplies. We would also lose 80% of the varieties of food we get across the world. The air quality will drop, and we will start inhaling more CO2 which leads to more health issues. A decrease in rainfall would increase dry weather and cause more forest fires. We would lose 70% of the 3,000 plants that are active against cancer.
There would be a lot more changes than we can predict or expect and it is almost impossible to try reforestation again to create similar rainforest and hence it will disbalance the eco-system.
Ever played Jenga? You start removing parts of the tower, till you get to a point when removing one little piece of wood can cause the whole tower to collapse - that’s the Amazon rainforest, in the context of regulating the Earth’s climate. It is among the many tipping points that scientists have proposed could change the delicate balance of our planet and usher in a completely new, unpredictable state.
The Amazon rainforest helps significantly in carbon capture, and converting moisture into rainfall - which in turn moderates the temperatures, and wet, lush forests dampen the impact of forest fires. A fragmented forest or a degraded one cannot play as effective a role - and if over 40% of the Amazon is cleared, you will create a cascade effect of forest fires, loss of biodiversity, desertification, and poor rainfall.
Here’s a good resource on the role of the Amazon, and the other ‘tipping points’: Explainer: Nine ‘tipping points’ that could be triggered by climate change | Carbon Brief