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Amazon rainforest could be unsustainable within a decade

Edinburgh, Scotland -- Talk of saving the rainforests is as burned into the collective minds of people as refrains to "Save the Whales" and to "Make Love, Not War." Without action, however, the day when there are no tropical rainforests to talk about could come a lot sooner than people think, according to a Penn State Abington researcher.

Working from his office on campus, James (Bud) Alcock, professor of environmental sciences, has developed a mathematical model to study the effect of human-driven deforestation. Current deforestation rates of about 1 percent per year in the Amazon River Basin rainforest in Brazil could push the rainforests past the point where they can sustain themselves a lot sooner than many people think. The other key tropical rainforests are in the Congo River Basin in Africa and Southeast Asia. To use the two-million-square-mile Amazon River Basin as an example, Alcock said his model shows that if there is no immediate and aggressive action to change current agricultural, mining and logging practices, the rainforest could pass "the point of no return" in 10 to 15 years. When all is said and done, the model indicates that the rainforest could essentially disappear within 40 to 50 years. That is a far cry from the common belief among researchers that the forest is still 75 to 100 years away from total deterioration, if current patterns prevail, said Alcock.

"Because of the way tropical rainforests work, they are dependent on trees to return water to the air," said Alcock, noting that the sheer size of the Amazon River Basin has already been reduced by about 25 percent. "This interdependence of climate and forest means risks to the forests are much closer at hand than what we might expect, and we're doing very little because of the priorities of Brazil and The Congo. It's a very difficult problem because of several pressures. For example, you cannot say, 'leave the rainforests alone' when people are living in pove
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
26-Jun-2001


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