Climate Change is Affecting the Amazon Rainforest Warns NASA

First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 01:00 PM EST

Since 2005, an area of the Amazon rainforest twice the size of California has been suffering from the effects of a megadrought. A new study lead by NASA has shown that the recurring droughts that have damaged the rainforest may be signs of potential large-scale degradation due to climate change.

Lead by Sassan Saatchi, the team from NASA analyzed more than a decade's worth of satellite microwave radar data over the area of Amazonia. The analysis included rainfall measurements, moisture content and the structure of the forest canopy. They found that during the summer of 2005, more than 270,000 square miles of old-growth forest experienced extensive drought conditions. It caused widespread changes to the forest canopy that could be observed via satellite, and indicates that the area could be extensively impacted in years to come.

Although the rainfall levels increased in subsequent years, the damage was done. The forest was unable to fully recover before the next major drought, which occurred in 2010. The findings suggest that if these major droughts continue into the future, the rainforest may face serious complications.

Amazonian droughts have helped attract attention to the vulnerability of tropical rainforests to climate change. While other forests are less sensitive and less dependent on rainfall, tropical forests show major shifts when confronted with dry spells and wildfires. NASA has monitored the Amazon for more than 40 years, and the area continues to shrink in size over the decades. The 2005 drought, in fact, was attributed to the long-term warming of tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures- a trend that is likely to continue if climate change persists.

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