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December 23, 2019 08:04 am

Two Top Scientists Warn That The Amazon, and Earth, Have Reached a Tipping Point

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post:"The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we," Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University and Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, both of whom have studied the world's largest rainforest for decades, wrote in an editorial in the journal Science Advances. "Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now." Combined with recent news that the thawing Arctic permafrost may be beginning to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and that Greenland's ice sheet is melting at an accelerating pace, it's the latest hint that important parts of the climate system may be moving toward irreversible changes at a pace that defies earlier predictions... In interviews, Lovejoy and Nobre said they decided to sound a dire alarm about the Amazon after witnessing the acceleration of troubling trends. The combination of rising temperatures, crippling wildfires and ongoing land clearing for cattle ranching and crops has extended dry seasons, killed off water-sensitive vegetation and created conditions for more fire. The Amazon is 17 percent deforested, but for the large portion of it inside Brazil, the figure is closer to 20 percent. The fear is that soon there will be so little forest that the trees, which not only soak up enormous quantities of rainwater but also give off mist that aids agriculture and sustains innumerable species, won't be able to recycle enough rainfall At that point, much of the rainforest could decline into a drier savanna ecosystem. Rainfall patterns would change across much of South America. Several hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide could wind up in the atmosphere, worsening climate change. And such a feedback loop would be tough to reverse. That point of no return, commonly referred to by scientists as a tipping point, "is much closer than we anticipated," Nobre said in an interview.... In combination, the Amazon and Arctic news underscores that even as humans are largely failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth may increase such emissions yet further. Still, it is possible to slow the transformation of the Amazon through reforestation, researchers said. "A tipping point is a way to talk about a moment of system shift or system change," Lovejoy said. "In this case, it's not going to be instantaneous, and that's good news. It allows you to do something about it."

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