Amazon Drought

South America’s Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical jungle on the planet. It’s crucial habitat for one in 10 of the 1.6 million known species on Earth. More than 1,000 tree species live in an acre of Amazonia. 

The Amazon has been ravaged by the climate in crisis. First, half a billion trees were blown down by a mega storm then a one-in-100-year drought occurred later that year in 2005. The Amazon rainforest lost 23 percent of its estimated mean annual carbon accumulation or carbon dioxide it removes from the atmosphere. Then those dead trees began decomposing releasing billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

In 2007, an extreme drought in the southeast Amazon created conditions for an epic wildfire season — 10 times more fire than a normal year. The area burned in 2007 was the equivalent of one million soccer fields. 

In 2010, the second one-in-100-year drought gripped the area. Not only are billions of dead trees decomposing and adding carbon dioxide into an overheated atmosphere — the Amazon a phenomenal daily rainmaking machine is loosing its ability to create clouds. Instead, it is absorbing mega amounts of incoming solar radiation, rather than reflecting it. 

What this means is that the Earth’s largest tropical forest, the Amazon Basin, has begun a transition from pristine wilderness to drought and fire-dominated regimes on a scale never witnessed since our progenitors first walked the planet seven million years ago. The Amazon jungle has reached its tipping point; it’s on the verge en masse of contributing to rising greenhouse gases rather than removing them. 

The calendar year of 2015 was the hottest on record. According to NOAA, the first six months of 2016 were the hottest since the inception of continuous records 137 years ago. 

The potent El Niño of 2015 reduced the Amazon rainfall significantly. In some areas, it’s tinderbox dry. In fact, my colleagues now say the Amazon is far drier than either 2005 or 2010, so now the Amazon is experiencing the third one-in-100-year drought in 11 years. The wildfire risk for July, August and September now exceeds that of both 2005 and 2010. 

Severe drought conditions at the beginning of the dry season are an awful omen, especially since wild grassland fires are burning near the edges of the southern Amazon rainforest.

Millions of Amazon trees are under stress; a lower humidity across the region enables fires to grow bigger than they normally would. 

Droughts are enveloping our planet. In California, we lost 26 million trees over the past eight months, 66 million trees since 2010, and another 120 million trees, or almost a quarter of the forests, are under extreme water stress. 

Burning more climate-altering subsidized fossil fuels is driving deadly droughts. Droughts impinge upon growing crops, in turn threatening global food security

Nature is telling us — in no uncertain terms — to back off on burning fossil fuels because forests are collapsing on all forested continents. It is time for all towns and cities to future-proof in the face of the wild weather that’s ahead. Is anyone listening? 

Earth Doctor Reese Halter is the author of “The Insatiable bark Beetle.”

Dr. Reese Halter is an eco-physiologist specializing in Earth's life support systems.

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