From the Amazonian fires to the rapid deforestation that plagues natural resources, environmental concerns are on the rise. A new study published in Nature confirms fears that the reduction of global forests is contributing to climate deterioration. To conduct this research, scientists followed the carbon sink effect in the world’s two largest expanses of tropical forests.
What is the Significance of a Carbon Sink?
In simple terms, carbon sinks are entities that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We see examples all around us, from plants and oceans to sustainable technology. In more technical terms, carbon sinks equal carbon gains minus carbon losses. Keep in mind, carbon gains are a good thing. This signifies the growth of surviving stems or new stems in forests. Meanwhile, carbon losses signify stems that have died.
Between the 1990s and the early 2000s, tropical forests eliminated 15% of carbon dioxide emissions. It was expected that this carbon sink would continue for decades. However, it was little known then that the 1990s were the peak of tropical forests’ carbon absorption.
Combining data from 244 plots of African tropical forests with 321 plots from Amazonia, researchers investigated the causes of carbon uptake reduction. These two tropical forests are the largest on the globe and a major player in emission reduction.
African tropical forests have had a stable carbon sink for decades. Contrarily, the Amazonian carbon sink has been having a long decline. This decline is caused by increasing tree mortality — an indicator of the death of forest trees. Tree mortality, in addition, is a great measure of forest health.
Interestingly, the Amazon and African forests have had a trend of asymmetric carbon gain. Between 2000 and 2014, African forest carbon gains increased by 3.1% while the Amazon‘s carbon gains decreased by 0.1%.
Carbon Sink Projections Tell a Concerning Story
Unfortunately, although the African forests are seemingly stable, this might not always be the case. Carbon losses that occurred after 2010 in Africa indicate a long-term projected decline of the African carbon sink. By 2030, the carbon sink in African tropical forests is predicted to decline by 14%. In addition, scientists predict that the Amazonian sink will rapidly decline and reach zero by 2035.
It is evident that the diminishing carbon sinks have grave implications on the health of Earth’s climate. In just over 20 years, the amount of carbon dioxide eliminated by tropical forests reduced by 65%. This statistic credits itself to both an increase in carbon emissions and a decrease in forest area. In fact, if tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third in emissions.
Climate Change Impacts Could be Far More Severe Than Predicted
In total, these predictions sound grim, but analysis suggests that this is only a baseline estimation. The study states that the impacts of climate change in the tropics could be far more severe than predicted.
To counter the effects of forests absorbing less carbon, humans need to take action – as emphasized by the research. The rate of reduction of carbon sinks could differ continentally and regionally. Due to this, it’s important to carefully monitor forests and emissions.
In addition, to limit the global heating of the Earth, it is crucial to set an early date to reach a net-zero of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Climate and carbon dioxide stabilization are vital to the carbon balance of tropical forests.
Altogether, every small step taken to take care of our environment makes an impact. From planting trees to practicing a sustainable lifestyle, it is more crucial now than ever to prioritize our planet.