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02/21/2013 04:01 PM     print story email story  

A Bit of Good News for Climate: Amazon Should Make it Through

SustainableBusiness.com News

There could be a bit of good news on climate change in a rare case where a feedback loop provides benefits, rather than more horror.

One of the biggest concerns is what will happen to the Amazon rainforest as the world warms. Parts of it are already experiencing long-term drought, unheard of for this steamy, tropical jungle. Will that turn into blazing wildfires, scientists ask, which fuel climate change even more when all that carbon enters the atmosphere?

At least one scientist says he's no longer as worried about a catastrophic loss of the Amazon, because of the fertilization effects of carbon.

Plants, of course, absorb carbon to grow, and at least for the 21st century, the Amazon will feed on that carbon to continue growing.

In 2000, Peter Cox, at the University of Exeter in England, published a much-quoted study that warned warming could dry out the Amazon by 2050.

His new study, however, shows that "CO2 fertilization will beat the negative effect of climate change so that forests will continue to accumulate carbon throughout the 21st century," he told Reuters.

Along with other scientists, the research models forest growth based on various levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Although warming is indeed damaging, causing big losses, the benefits of carbon fertilization significantly exceeded those losses.

For every degree Celsius of temperature rise, 53 billion tons of carbon would be released from the tropics, much of that in the Amazon, but there was still a net gain of 319 billion tons of stored carbon.

The bigger problem, he says, is more ozone or methane in the atmosphere, because those chemicals force climate change without any positive net impact.

His argument increases the urgency to protect these forests to enable "the lungs of the world" to continue absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.



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