Brazil's rainforests releasing even greater amounts of CO2

Forest fragments of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest in the North-East of Brazil, surround by sugar cane plantations.
Mateus de Dantas de Paula

Significantly more carbon has been lost in the Brazilian rainforests than was previously assumed.

Scientists from the Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) write in the scientific journal Nature Communications that the effect of rainforest loss had been underestimated in fragmented forest areas. This is because it had not been possible to calculate the loss of biomass at forest edges and the higher carbon dioxide emissions that flow from it.

The UFZ scientists have closed this gap by combining results from remote sensing, ecology and forest modelling. They calculate that fragmenting the forest leads to a fifth more carbon dioxide being emitted by the vegetation.

The scientists compared fragmented forest patches to large, unchanged forests in the Amazon and the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. They found that the microclimate changes at the edges of forest patches - the wind and sun are stronger, temperatures rise and larger trees die from the extra stress.

The UFZ model indicates 10% of tropical forests worldwide are at the edges of forests, resulting in 0.2billion extra tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere each year. "The effect should urgently be taken into account," by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says UFZ scientist Andreas Huth.

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