Seen from above the treetops, the Brazilian Amazon rainforest stretches to the horizon like an endless sea of lush green. The forest may look like a rich and healthy ecosystem, but appearances can be deceiving. The rainforest is slowly dying out.
Over the past 50 years, the dry season has expanded from four months to almost five, while the average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees C. Droughts are becoming an annual event, driving a shift in vegetation, killing tree species in need of a moist climate to survive.
At the same time, large parts of the Amazon are being cut down and burnt to make way for cattle ranching and mining. Tree clearing, both legal and illegal has been responsible for shrinking the rainforest by almost 20% since 1970. In the face of warming climate, increased deforestation, and fiercer fires, scientists are worried about the Amazon's overall chance of survival and are warning about a nearing tipping point from which the rainforest will not be able to bounce back.
The tipping point
The humid climate of the Amazon is crucial for sustaining its fragile ecosystem. The forest plays a major part in keeping itself alive by recycling water and generating rainfall. When combining drought, deforestation and fires a deadly shrinking cycle emerges, less trees equal less humidity which in turn kills more trees.
Eventually, this is believed to transform the Amazon from a lush rainforest into a dry savannah.
In 2018 climate researchers at the University of São Paulo raised the alarm by arguing might be closer to that tipping point than previously thought. Stating that if 25% of the rainforest were cut down it will not be able to keep sustaining itself. If that should happen it would not only affect the millions of people and animals living in the region but could also have a catastrophic affect on world climate when tonnes of carbon dioxide will be emitted into the atmosphere as trees die.
Halting deforestation, planting more trees
An urgent priority is to halt deforestation, another is to promote the growth and rejuvenation of new forest in degraded areas. There is a very high potential for restoration in the Amazon, especially in areas that were abandoned by agricultural initiatives. In early February 2020 more than 1,000 scientists signed an open letter warning about "an emergency situation", saying we can still fix this, but we need to act now!