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Amazon faces “tipping point”, say researchers

The Amazon rainforest could collapse as soon as 2050, says new research
The Amazon rainforest could collapse as soon as 2050, says new research

The Amazon rainforest could face “large-scale collapse” by 2050, says new research.

This would be included in a tipping point that the ecosystem encounters because of unprecedented stress from warming temperatures, extreme droughts, deforestation and fires, even in central and remote parts, says a new and comprehensive article in the journal Nature.

For 65mn years, Amazonian forests remained relatively resilient to climatic variability, but long-existing feedbacks between the forest and environmental conditions are being replaced by novel feedbacks that modify ecosystem resilience, increasing the risk of critical transition.

The researchers estimate that by 2050, 10% to 47% of Amazonian forests will be “exposed to compounding disturbances that may trigger unexpected ecosystem transitions and potentially exacerbate regional climate change”. Previous research had found that the ecosystem could be pushed beyond a tipping point if forest loss were to exceed 40%.

Using examples of disturbed forests across the Amazon, the researchers identify the three most plausible ecosystem trajectories, involving different feedbacks and environmental conditions. They discuss how the inherent complexity of the Amazon adds uncertainty about future dynamics, but also reveals opportunities for action.

Keeping the Amazon forest resilient in the Anthropocene – since human activity has been the dominant influence on the global climate and environment – will depend on a combination of local efforts to end deforestation and degradation and to expand restoration, with global efforts to stop greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they said.

The researchers, led by Bernardo Flores of the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, found that the rainforest had already crossed a safe boundary. They said that degraded areas should be restored. The researchers used evidence from paleorecords, as well as empirical data and models.

“By 2050, [the potential shift] will accelerate rapidly. We need to respond now. Once we pass the tipping point, we will lose control of how the system will behave,” Flores told the Guardian. He said he was surprised by how soon the tipping point might occur.

In October of 2023, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) found that while El Niño may have had “some influence” on the sub-continent’s record high temperatures in the spring, climate change was the “main driver” of the heat, making it at least 100 times more likely and a startling 1.4-4.3ºC hotter.