Monday, January 10, 2011

The Lungs of the Earth Need Immediate Pulmonary Assistance

Original (unaltered) photo: Ivan Mlinaric / cc

If the billion acres of Amazon rainforest are 'the lungs of the Earth', then our planet had better get in to see a pulmonary specialist immediately. According to research conducted with the help of satellite imagery, the typically lush Amazon is losing its greenness -- with an astonishing 618 million acres looking a bit on the brown and wilted side. Scientists studying the phenomenon say that last year's strangling drought is behind the change. There's just one problem though -- the rain's returned, but the green has not.

In the months following the break of the Amazon drought, an international team of researchers, led by Boston University's Liang Xu, pored over recent satellite data and arrived at a troubling conclusion: the word's largest rainforest is in failing health, and the implications of this are planet-wide. While the Amazon is an important source of the Earth's oxygen, it also serves a vital role as a carbon sink. And, let's not forget that an untold number of unique species (both animal and plant life) live there, too, making it one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.

"The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation -- a measure of its health -- decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," Liang Xu said in a statement, as reported by The International Business Times.

Areas in brown show indicate where greenness levels have dropped. Image courtesy:

Last year's drought in the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the worst on record, reducing major river-ways into sun-baked plains of mud and clay. As might be expected from the lack of rainfall, huge swathes of pristine vegetation in the region bore the brunt of the impact -- but what worries researchers is the fact that the forest has yet to rebound, even though precipitation levels returned to normal in October 2010.

Scientists have long warned of the dangers facing forest ecosystems, like in the Amazon, from the devastating impact of climate change -- potentially transforming once lush zones into areas of savannas or deserts.

Perhaps it is only by tackling issues such as the unrelenting release of carbon emissions on a global scale can the world -- quite literally -- breath a little easier.


No comments: