“Are tropical forests losing their ability to cycle greenhouse gases and water?” asked an article in the New York Times. The article explained that the recent record setting heat waves in the Amazon had triggered a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide to nearly six times its normal level. This increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is expected to continue along with climate change. “If not slowed,” said the article, “the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere this year will equal the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during the past twelve years”.
While it is true that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is a likely result of climate change, the article also noted that some areas are seeing a slowing of climate change attribution. In one case this is due to a new tracking system that is helping to detect where the carbon is being locked up. In the Amazon the new tracking system has found over five billion dollars’ worth of carbon locked up in the soils of the Amazon Rainforest. This is a major finding and points to the need for a far more rigorous and lengthy monitoring effort. The locking up of carbon in the soil can potentially be a serious problem if this type of carbon is stored in the soil indefinitely.
Another recent example of a new track in the carbon cycle and climate change attribution is the case of Central Africa. There, the recently devastation of Cyclone Natal has revealed how vulnerable ecosystems are to severe climate change. The Central African ecosystem is vulnerable to abrupt climate changes because the vulnerable vegetation is unable to recover quickly from such disasters. The vegetation collapse is a real problem, and the consequences in terms of ecosystem ecology and global warming may not be fully known for many years. The same vulnerability means that we need to better monitor the tropical forests of the world in order to better reflect on their vulnerability to climate change and its impact on the carbon cycle and on the global climate change response.
Perhaps the most important result of the paper by Fischer and Schmitz is the identification of a previously unrecognized vulnerability to climate change, which has been identified in the Amazon and Central African Forest. This vulnerability involves the ability of the tree to store large amounts of water. The Amazont stands at the transition between tropical and terrestrial trees in the Carboniferous family. They have adapted well to long periods of drought, but they have no natural capacity to store water and their decline would mean total loss of these species.
The study also shows large-scale vulnerability of the Central African forest to the frequent droughts which occur in the Laikipole area. If these frequent droughts continue to take place there is a high chance that an enormous amount of the Amazonian rain forest will be removed from its grasslands and forests and become wildfire. This would result in massive deforestation and a serious setback to efforts to conserve the region.
As discussed previously, precipitation, heat and winds will continue to change in some regions and this will continue to increase the vulnerability of the rainforests. In addition, climate change will continue to change the regional hydration state of the terrestrial environment and will likely continue to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts. It is likely that in the next few decades, changes to the earth’s climate will continue to lead to significant change in the hydrology and hydrography of the region. It is in this region that we need to take the lead and support local communities in taking action to protect their water and environmental health. The paper by Fischer and Schmitz does just that and offers a road map for future research and action in the fight against global warming and climate change.