Satellite images show the Amazon rainforest is hurtling toward a ‘tipping point’

By Sarah Kaplan

Viewed from space, the Amazon rainforest doesn’t look like an ecosystem on the brink. Clouds still coalesce from the breath of some 390 billion trees. Rivers snake their way through what appears to be a sea of endless green.

Yet satellite images taken over the past several decades reveal that more than 75 percent of the rainforest is losing resilience, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. The vegetation is drier and takes longer to regenerate after a disturbance. Even the most densely forested tracts struggle to bounce back.

This widespread weakness offers an early warning sign that the Amazon is nearing its “tipping point,” the study’s authors say. Amid rising temperatures and other human pressures, the ecosystem could suffer sudden and irreversible dieback. More than half of the rainforest could be converted into savanna in a matter of decades — a transition that would imperil biodiversity, shift regional weather patterns and dramatically accelerate climate change.

 

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