Amazon may reach tipping point by 2050 and speed up global warming, a study warns

Brazilian researchers say the pace of devastation seen in recent decades may lead towards the biome’s partial collapse
Photo: Bruno Kelly/ Amazônia Real

By Murilo Pajolla
Translated by Ana Paula Rocha
From Brasil de Fato

A study led by Brazilian researchers and published in the scientific magazine Nature on Wednesday (14) warns that the Amazon rainforest could reach the tipping point by 2050.

Thus, the pace of degradation seen in recent decades will drive the forest to partial or even total collapse. Among the possible consequences, scientists include global warming speeding up.

“That’s the tipping point: a moment when the system feeds itself, speeding up deforestation – and we lose control,” Flores explained in an official statement released by the Serrapilheira Institute, which financed the study.

The conclusions are part of a research led by Marina Hirota and Bernardo Flores, both from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), with collaborators from Brazil, Europe and the United States.

“We are approaching all the [possible] thresholds. At the current pace, they will be reached in this century, and the interaction between all of them could make it happen sooner than expected,” says Flores.

The study highlights that the Amazon is facing unprecedented pressure from climate change and deforestation, weakening the feedback mechanisms that guarantee the forest’s resilience.

Amazon’s collapse may speed up global warming

Deforestation in the Amazon – with the consequent emission of carbon gases – could accelerate global warming while the decrease in the circulation of atmospheric humidity would affect rainfall patterns in various parts of the world.

“The Amazon is a complex system, which makes it even more challenging to predict how different kinds of forests will respond to global changes. If we want to curb a systemic transition, we must adopt a new preventative approach, one that keeps the forests’ resilience in the decades to come,” stated Marina Hirota, one of the authors of the study.

Tackleing deforestation is crucial

To preserve the resilience of the Amazon rainforest, the researchers highlight the need for a combined approach, which includes local efforts to deter deforestation and promote the restoration of the forest, precisely with global initiatives for reducing greenhouse gases and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“In some cases, the forest may recover, but it keeps attached to a state of degradation, taken over by opportunistic plants such as vines and bamboo. In other cases, the forest does not recover and remains trapped in an “open vegetation” state with recurring fires,” Flores explains.

Participation of Brazilians and financing

Brazilian researchers headed the three-year long study financed by the Serrapilheira Institute as part of the Science Panel for the Amazon efforts. This global initiative gathers scientists to provide society with updated information on the Amazon.

Of the 24 authors of the article, 14 are Brazilian, including Flores and Hirota, with the collaboration of others linked to Serrapilheira. Founded in 2017, the Serrapilheira Institute is a non-profit organization that promotes science in Brazil, supporting more than 300 scientific and communication projects, with an investment of more than BRL 90 million (over US$ 18 million).

Edited by: Thalita Pires/ BdF