The Amazon rainforest is nearing the point of no return

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A new study warns that the Amazon soon may not be able to recover from droughts or wildfires, which could have terrible effects on the planet.

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The Amazon rainforest is one of the most important ecosystems in the world. It’s a source of biodiversity that protects thousands of rare species. It’s responsible for nearly 6% of the planet’s oxygen. It’s a reliable carbon sink that keeps emissions from getting caught in the atmosphere.

And now, it’s nearing its breaking point. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that more than 75% of the world’s largest rainforest has lost stability in the last few decades. What does that mean, exactly? It takes longer for the rainforest to recover from environmental damage caused by outlier weather conditions like droughts and wildfires — both of which are growing more common due to climate change.

While the rainforest is not believed to be at its breaking point yet, it is pushing close to it. Researchers warn that once it reaches that tipping point, it will be nearly impossible to reverse the effects. Within a few decades, the rainforest will turn to grassland, and much of the carbon that has been sequestered within the trees will be released into the atmosphere.

It’s possible to stave off this outcome, but drastic change will be necessary. The paper warns that we can’t accurately predict the tipping point — we’ll likely know about it only after it happens. Given that the Amazon has been subject to devastating wildfires and a troubling amount of deforestation in recent years, protecting the region is more important than ever. If it collapses, there will be the potential for a domino-like impact on the rest of the planet, as climate change would likely accelerate.