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Environmental change and the carbon balance of Amazonian forests: environmental change in Amazonia

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

  • Luiz E. O. C. Aragão
  • Benjamin Poulter
  • Jos B. Barlow
  • Liana O. Anderson
  • Yadvinder Malhi
  • Sassan Saatchi
  • Oliver L. Phillips
  • Emanuel Gloor
Journal publication date11/2014
JournalBiological Reviews
Journal number4
Volume89
Number of pages19
Pages913-931
Early online date20/02/14
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Extreme climatic events and land-use change are known to influence strongly the current carbon cycle of Amazonia, and have the potential to cause significant global climate impacts. This review intends to evaluate the effects of both climate and anthropogenic perturbations on the carbon balance of the Brazilian Amazon and to understand how they interact with each other. By analysing the outputs of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 4 (AR4) model ensemble, we demonstrate that Amazonian temperatures and water stress are both likely to increase over the 21st Century. Curbing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 62% in 2010 relative to the 1990s mean decreased the Brazilian Amazon's deforestation contribution to global land use carbon emissions from 17% in the 1990s and early 2000s to 9% by 2010. Carbon sources in Amazonia are likely to be dominated by climatic impacts allied with forest fires (48.3% relative contribution) during extreme droughts. The current net carbon sink (net biome productivity, NBP) of +0.16 (ranging from +0.11 to +0.21) Pg C year−1 in the Brazilian Amazon, equivalent to 13.3% of global carbon emissions from land-use change for 2008, can be negated or reversed during drought years [NBP = −0.06 (−0.31 to +0.01) Pg C year−1]. Therefore, reducing forest fires, in addition to reducing deforestation, would be an important measure for minimizing future emissions. Conversely, doubling the current area of secondary forests and avoiding additional removal of primary forests would help the Amazonian gross forest sink to offset approximately 42% of global land-use change emissions. We conclude that a few strategic environmental policy measures are likely to strengthen the Amazonian net carbon sink with global implications. Moreover, these actions could increase the resilience of the net carbon sink to future increases in drought frequency.