Amazon rainforests could be in ‘fire trap’

Global warming and deforestation of the Amazon pose a serious threat to this unique ecosystem. A recent study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research has shown that fire could be a decisive factor in turning Amazon rainforests into grasslands. Under normal conditions, wildfires are virtually non-existent in tropical forests. However, when the forest is damaged, thinned or completely destroyed, fire begins to play an increasing role. With global warming, fires will prevent forest regeneration.

Fire is a decisive factor

A model developed by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research shows that fire could be a decisive factor in turning Amazon rainforests into grasslands. The study emphasizes that fire plays an increasing role in damaged or lost forests. This is especially true in the face of global warming, when it is becoming increasingly difficult for Amazon forests to regenerate.

The lead author of the study, Markus Juke, emphasizes: “Fire is an important factor that will prevent Amazon forests from recovering. And its role is all the greater the more severe climate change becomes. We know that reversing Amazon forest loss becomes more difficult the more forest is lost. Our research shows that fire creates another lever of pressure on the ecosystem. The fire trap may be slamming shut.”

Forest loss and its consequences

Trees in the Amazon rainforest play an important role in the water cycle. They evaporate huge amounts of water back into the atmosphere, which they received in the form of rain. This water becomes the source of new rainfall and creates what are known as “flying rivers”. These rivers moisten not only the forests themselves, but also dry regions.

However, global warming and deforestation are causing the loss of these flying rivers. As a result, the Amazon forests may shift to a grassland state. The study emphasizes that increasing fire dynamics could turn the Amazon into a treeless savanna. Fires will prevent forest regeneration.

The need to maintain stability

Co-author of the study, Kirsten Tonike, notes: “Our results emphasize the need to keep the Earth system within stable boundaries and limit climate change. This is a global challenge. However, there is also a local challenge – stopping deforestation of tropical forests to prevent going past a tipping point after which fires will play a decisive role.”

The Amazon rainforest is threatened by global warming and deforestation. A recent study found that fire could be a decisive factor in turning Amazon forests into grasslands. Fires will prevent forest regeneration and could cause the Amazon to transition to a treeless savanna. Preserving rainforests and climate stability is a challenge for all of humanity.

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