New data from NASA points to widespread devastation of the Amazon rainforest caused by climate change, suggesting the massive ecosystem — source of 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen — is losing its ability to recover.
A study has found that a megadrought that began in 2005 in the Amazon rainforest continues to have a negative impact on an area of the ecosystem twice the size of California.
The persistance of these effects, combined with recurring droughts and damage to the forest in the recent past, may be the first observance of "potential large-scale degradation due to climate change," according to an article on NASA's website.
A research team analyzed more than a decade of data over Amazonia, looking at factors including rainfall measurements, moisture content and structure of the forest canopy.
In the summer of 2005, over 270,000 square miles of forest suffered a severe drought, causing damage to the canopy observable by satellite. While rainfall levels bounced back the next year, the damage to the forest canopy continued until the next drought in 2010.
Scientists expected the forest to bounce back after the 2005 drought, but, to their surprise, an area the size of California was unable to recover before the next drought began.
These droughts shed light on just how vulnerable tropical forests are to climate change, and the effects range from an increase in forest fires to tree die-offs. The data recorded in this study are the first to show the multi-year effects of these droughts — with the cause attributed to the warming of the sea surface. The findings suggest the structure and function of the Amazonian rainforests may be permanently altered should these droughts persist in rapid succession of one another.