A new study published in the journal Nature Communications indicates that the Amazon rainforest could shift from a closed canopy rainforest to an open savanna due to the climate crisis. The study shows that the rate of deforestation coupled with forest fires sparked by climate change could significantly change the status of the rainforest in the future.

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According to the researchers, rainforests are very sensitive to changes in rainfall. If they experience prolonged droughts and fires like the ones recently witnessed in the Amazon, they may lose more trees and become more like a savanna. Although scientists have always known that this was possible, it was thought that such changes were decades away. The new study, led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, now indicates that the changes are much closer than initially anticipated.

Related: You can help monitor Amazon deforestation from your couch

Almost 40% of the Amazon is already receiving less rainfall than usual and is at the point where it could exist as a savanna instead of a rainforest. While the researchers say that the process of fully changing the forest to savanna would take decades, they also say that once the process starts, it is nearly irreversible.

“Drier conditions make it harder for the forest to recover and increase the flammability of the ecosystem,” Arie Staal, lead author of the study, told The Guardian.

If the Amazon rainforest changes to a savanna, there would be dangerous consequences. Rainforests are important because they support a huge number of species and absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If the rainforest changes, much of the plant and animal species here could be lost.

The problems experienced by rainforests like the Amazon are exacerbated by harmful policies. For instance, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has made promises to develop the Amazon, a move that has been criticized by many. This year, the Amazon has experienced a 60% increase in fire hotspots compared to 2019. The study now warns that if such fires continue, the rainforest could be permanently altered.

+ Nature Communications

Via The Guardian

Image via Jose Eduardo Camargo