Mar 7, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Study: Amazon struggling to recover from wildfires and logging

An environmentally protected area near Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil, in October 2021.
An environmentally protected area near Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil, in October 2021. (Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Satellite images collected over the past two decades show that more than 75% of the Amazon rainforest is likely struggling to recover from wildfires, droughts and human-caused disturbances, including logging, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Why it matters: Researchers behind the study warn that because parts the Amazon are increasingly losing resilience, they risk eventually transforming into dry savannah.

  • The researchers derived these findings from a statistical analysis of satellite images of the rainforest's vegetation and said the resilience loss stems largely from deforestation for agricultural production and climate change.
  • Previously it had been known that parts of the Amazon were transforming into other ecosystems, but the new findings show far larger impacts. The Amazon is a bastion of biodiversity that stores vast quantities of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

What they're saying: “Reduced resilience — the ability to recover from perturbations like droughts or fires — can mean an increased risk of dieback of the Amazon rainforest. That we see such a resilience loss in observations is worrying,” said coauthor Niklas Boers, a professor of Earth system modeling at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a statement.

  • “As a scientist, I am not supposed to have anxiety. But after reading this paper, I am very, very anxious,” Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies, who was not involved with the research, told the Washington Post.

The paper did not determine precisely when the Amazon could begin losing more trees and vegetation than it can recover, eventually suffering an irreversible dieback.

  • "When it will be observable, it would likely be too late to stop it," Boers said.

The big picture: Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest recently reached a 15-year high after it soared 22% in the 12-month period from August 2020 to July 2021.

Go deeper: Wildfire risk will jump 30% by 2050, UN says

Andrew Freedman contributed to this story.

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