Amazon rainforest could be unsustainable within a decade


Rainforests are dependent on high levels of precipitation brought on by daily rain, and a healthy forest holds onto the rain and returns it to the atmosphere so it can be recycled -- a process called evapotranspiration. Without a healthy base of vegetation, water runoff occurs at a higher rate, and it creates the potential for a highly unstable rainforest system.

There are those who espouse preserving small portions of the rainforest, but Alcock said damage to the overall system would probably limit the rain necessary to do that. Less rain could also mean more forest fires, further threatening the balance of the rainforest.

Alcock presented his findings today (June 25) at a joint conference of the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London titled, "Earth System Processes," in Edinburgh, Scotland.

While others have studied the effect of tropical rainforest deforestation on regional and global climates, Alcock said his study differs because it focuses on the local impact of the issues. In the Amazon River Basin, for example, loss of the forest would likely cause the extinction of many species of animals that thrive in such an environment, he said.

"There are already a large number of species that are endangered, because the forest itself is endangered," said Alcock. "We might be able to keep a few animals at the zoos, but we'd surely lose a lot of amphibians, reptiles and insects. We couldn't take them all."

Alcock decided to do the research so he could better explain the concept of feedback (exemplified by precipitation and evapotranspiration in the rainforest) to students in one of his introductory courses on earth systems. He hopes to advance his future studies by visiting the Amazon River Basin, or collaborating with someone who has done field research there.


Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

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