Deforestation in the Amazon is approaching the point of no return, and if this ecosystem falls, it could go from a vast carbon sink to a gushing carbon sink. Already, some climatologists suspect that the rainforest is spewing out more carbon than it is absorbing.
If the Amazon crosses a critical threshold of self-resilience, a new study suggests the disaster could trigger a domino effect, also reversing tipping points elsewhere in the world, abruptly accelerating environmental crises and causing irreparable damage to the environment. planet.
Tipping points in the global climate system, such as collapsing ice caps, melting glaciers, dying forests, rising sea levels and shifting monsoons, have received much more attention these days. last years.
Each of these switches could seriously increase the heat on our planet, creating a “terrestrial hothouse” with irreversible and catastrophic effects.
They are all linked by the global greenhouse effect, but in a climate crisis it is unclear what order they will eventually fall into.
The most recent study focuses on the tipping point of the Amazon rainforest and some of its connections to other regional climate systems.
Using historical data from 1979 to 2019, an international team of climatologists has linked the loss of trees in the Amazon to warmer temperatures in Tibet and on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Plugging this data into a model of the global climate system suggested that the connection was closely synchronized with modern climate change.
Periods of heavy rainfall in the Amazon have been correlated with less rainfall in Tibet and western Antarctica.
Since 2008, the snow cover on the Tibetan Plateau has been melting at a rapid rate similar to that of the Arctic.
The plateau is sometimes known as the third pole of the Earth and it plays an important role in water storage and climate on a global scale.
If the current study is correct, the loss of snow cover in Tibet could be due, in part, to deforestation on the other side of the world. The authors say the region is now operating near a tipping point that tends to be overlooked.
“Our framework emphasizes that failover elements can be linked as well as the potential predictability of cascading failover dynamics,” the authors write.
The connection between Antarctica, Tibet and the Amazon stretches nearly 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and appears to rely on strong ocean currents and westerly winds.
In a review of the article by Natureclimatologist Valerie Livina of the UK’s National Physical Laboratory agrees that the models show “strong correlations over long distances”.
“This is the first time that complex network theory has been applied in the context of tipping points, and the synergy of the two research areas provides important insight into global climate dynamics,” Livina writes.
“This work opens up a new realm of tipping point analysis on a global scale.”
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of complexity to integrate into future models.
Deforestation in the Amazon does not only affect Tibet and Antarctica. Previous studies suggest that the climate of the Amazon, which is closely tied to its trees, may impact coral reefs in the Caribbean and reduce snowfall in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains in North America, triggering potentially extreme drought on the west coast.
The planet’s climate systems are intimately linked. It’s a small world, after all.
The study was published in Natural climate change.