Report

Drought Sensitivity of the Amazon Rainforest

Science  06 Mar 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5919, pp. 1344-1347
DOI: 10.1126/science.1164033

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Abstract

Amazon forests are a key but poorly understood component of the global carbon cycle. If, as anticipated, they dry this century, they might accelerate climate change through carbon losses and changed surface energy balances. We used records from multiple long-term monitoring plots across Amazonia to assess forest responses to the intense 2005 drought, a possible analog of future events. Affected forest lost biomass, reversing a large long-term carbon sink, with the greatest impacts observed where the dry season was unusually intense. Relative to pre-2005 conditions, forest subjected to a 100-millimeter increase in water deficit lost 5.3 megagrams of aboveground biomass of carbon per hectare. The drought had a total biomass carbon impact of 1.2 to 1.6 petagrams (1.2 × 1015 to 1.6 × 1015 grams). Amazon forests therefore appear vulnerable to increasing moisture stress, with the potential for large carbon losses to exert feedback on climate change.

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