With world distracted, the Amazon rainforest continues to burn

With world distracted, the Amazon rainforest continues to burn

SOURCE: South China Morning Post DATE: May 9, 2020 SNIP: It has not got much attention with the world focused on coronavirus, but deforestation has surged in the Amazon rainforest this year, raising fears of a repeat of last year’s record-breaking devastation – or worse. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a new high in the first four months of the year, according to data released Friday by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), which uses satellite images to track the destruction. A total of 1,202 square kilometres of forest – an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan – was wiped out in the Brazilian Amazon from January to April, it found. That was a 55 per cent increase from the same period last year, and the highest figure for the first four months of the year since monthly records began in August 2015. The numbers raise new questions about how well Brazil is protecting its share of the world’s biggest rainforest under President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change sceptic who advocates opening protected lands to mining and farming. “Unfortunately, it looks like what we can expect for this year are more record-breaking fires and deforestation,” Greenpeace campaigner Romulo Batista said in a statement. Last year, in Bolsonaro’s first year in office, deforestation soared 85 per cent in the Brazilian Amazon, to 10,123 square kilometres of forest. The trend so far in 2020 is all the more worrying given that the usual high season for deforestation only starts in late...
Amazon deforestation at highest level in 10 years, says Brazil

Amazon deforestation at highest level in 10 years, says Brazil

SOURCE: Mongabay DATE: November 24, 2018 SNIP: Deforestation in Earth’s biggest rainforest reached the highest level in a decade, reports the Brazilian government. On Friday Brazil’s national space research institute INPE released its annual preliminary estimate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The data shows some 7,900 square kilometers (3050 square miles) of rainforest were cleared between August 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018, a 13.7 percent rise of over the 6,947 square kilometers cleared a year earlier. The loss represents an area 134 times the size of Manhattan’s land mass. The increase in deforestation was widely expected. Monitoring systems from both the Brazilian government and Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, have been showing deforestation trending upwards for months. Imazon’s deforestation alert system projected forest loss in the Amazon hitting a ten year high, which is now confirmed by the official data. The rise in deforestation this year in Brazil is likely linked to current political and economic trends. U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with China has reduced the competitiveness of American agricultural products, boosting soy and beef exports from Brazil, including the Brazilian Amazon, which is a major producing region. Brazil’s weak currency is also increasing the profitability of agribusiness in the country at the same time that Brazilian lawmakers are pushing through measures to weaken environmental regulations and protections for indigenous peoples. President elect Jair Bolsonaro has sharply criticized environmentalists and promised to further roll back conservation initiatives across the country. Rising deforestation bucks a long-term trend of declining rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. But Brazil has now missed the deforestation target it set...
How Amazon forest loss may affect water—and climate—far away

How Amazon forest loss may affect water—and climate—far away

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: November 19, 2018 SNIP: When Jair Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old retired Brazilian military officer, takes the helm in January of a country that manages 1.5 million square miles of the Amazon, the risks to wildlife and indigenous tribal communities will be clear. If Bolsonaro follows through on his campaign promises, deforestation rates in Brazil could almost immediately triple, according to an assessment by scientists. He wants to carve more mines and pave new roads. He wants fewer penalties for cutting down trees, and he has promised to halt growth of a network of indigenous forest reserves. By merging the nation’s agriculture and environment ministries, he hopes to make it easier for Brazil’s powerful soy and cattle industries to transform more native jungle into pasture and farms. But the consequences of Bolsonaro’s policies also would be felt far beyond areas hit by chainsaws. Even modest increases in deforestation could affect water supplies in Brazilian cities and in neighboring countries while harming the very farms he is trying to expand. More massive deforestation might alter water supplies as far away as Africa or California. Most troubling of all: Some scientists suggest the Amazon may already be nearing a tipping point. The region has been so degraded that even a small uptick in deforestation could send the forest hurtling toward a transition to something resembling a woodland savanna, according to an analysis earlier this year by two top scientists. In addition to forever destroying huge sections of the world’s largest rainforest, that shift would release tremendous quantities of planet-warming greenhouse gases, which could hasten the decline of whatever forest...
Major natural carbon sink may soon become a carbon source

Major natural carbon sink may soon become a carbon source

SOURCE: Purdue University DATE: November 19, 2018 SNIP: Ecosystems that host a carbon-dioxide rich type of soil called peat, known as peatlands, are the most efficient natural carbon sink on the planet. When undisturbed, they store more carbon dioxide than all other vegetation types on Earth combined. But when they’re drained and deforested, they can release nearly 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions each year. Climate researchers are worried that many of the peatlands soaking up carbon now will soon be doing the opposite. According to an earth systems model spanning from 12,000 years ago to 2100 AD, peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon could lose up to 500 million tons of carbon by the end of this century. That’s about 5 percent of current global annual fossil fuel carbon emissions, or 10 percent of U.S. emissions, being spit back out into the atmosphere. By most estimates, South America will become both warmer and wetter by the end of the century. The research shows that higher temperatures lead to more peat carbon loss, while increased precipitation slightly enhances the build-up of peat carbon over long timescales. Together, this is likely to increase carbon loss from peatlands to the atmosphere. “If the area we looked at could represent the whole Amazonia or tropical peatlands, the loss of peat carbon to the atmosphere under future climate scenarios should be of great concern to our society,” Qianlai Zhuang, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University said. “Agricultural intensification and increasing land-use disturbances, such as forest fires, threaten the persistence of peat carbon stocks. These peatland ecosystems may turn...
Rainforest destruction from gold mining hits all-time high in Peru

Rainforest destruction from gold mining hits all-time high in Peru

SOURCE: Science News DATE: November 8, 2018 SNIP: Small-scale gold mining has destroyed more than 170,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon in the past five years, according to a new analysis by scientists at Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA). That’s an area larger than San Francisco and 30 percent more than previously reported. “The scale of the deforestation is really shocking,” said Luis Fernandez, executive director of CINCIA and research associate professor in the department of biology. “In 2013, the first comprehensive look at Peruvian rainforest lost from mining showed 30,000 hectares. Five years later, we have found nearly 100,000 hectares of deforested landscape.” Artisanal-scale gold mining has been hard to detect because its aftereffects can masquerade as natural wetlands from a satellite view. But the damage is extensive. Small crews of artisanal miners don’t expect to hit the mother lode. Rather, miners set out to collect the flakes of gold in rainforest. “We’re not talking about huge gold veins here,” Fernandez said. “But there’s enough gold in the landscape to make a great deal of money in a struggling economy. You just have to destroy an immense amount of land to get it.” To get the gold, they strip the land of trees or suck up river sediment, and then use toxic mercury to tease the precious metal out of the dirt. The results are environmentally catastrophic. Artisanal-scale gold mining has been hard to detect because its aftereffects can masquerade as natural wetlands from a satellite view. But the damage is extensive. Small crews of artisanal miners don’t expect to hit...