A recent study in Nature shows that the Amazon rainforest is now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs. For the first time, scientists have confirmed that despite once being the largest carbon sink in the world, the rainforest has turned into a pollutant due to high rates of deforestation.

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According to the study, approximately a billion tonnes of carbon are emitted by the forest each year. The study has identified forest fires as one of the major causes of emissions. Most of the fires are deliberately started to clear forest land for beef and soy farming. With most of the world’s soy supply produced in Brazil, conservationists are calling for a global conversation over the status of the Amazon.

Related: Facebook Marketplace fuels illegal sales of land in the Amazon rainforest

Researchers used small planes to measure the levels of CO2 over the Amazon, up to 4,500 meters above the canopy. The study started in 2010 and ran until 2018. Previous studies were conducted via satellite images, which were less accurate. 

The research was lead and co-authored by Luciana Gatti of the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil. While commenting on the findings, Gatti said that deforestation alone is turning the forest into a carbon emitter. Even in regions with no forest fires, researchers found that carbon emissions were higher than carbon absorption in areas where deforestation was severe.

“The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%,” said Gatti.

Researchers were involved in checking over 600 verticle profiles of CO2 and carbon monoxide. The study found that fires alone produced 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, while forest growth only removes approximately half a billion tonnes of CO2 per year. As The Guardian reports, “the 1bn tonnes left in the atmosphere is equivalent to the annual emissions of Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest polluter.”

Professor Simon Lewis of University College London has praised the study, saying, “Flying every two weeks and keeping consistent laboratory measurements for nine years is an amazing feat.”

In light of this news, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been scrutinized for driving deforestation by supporting farmers to take land in the forest. If this continues, some countries in Europe are threatening to block an EU trade deal with Brazil.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pexels