A recent study led by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California has found that the world’s forests’ ability to store CO2 has decreased.
It was argued that the decrease in ability was caused by large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation, and climate change effects.
The study produced maps that show the world’s carbon sources and sinks and how they are affected by land-use changes such as deforestation, habitat degradation, forest planting, and forest growth.
“A lot of research that has come before hasn’t been spatially explicit. We haven’t had a map of where carbon fluxes were occurring,” said Nancy Harris, research director of the forest program at the World Resources Institute in Washington and one of the study authors.
The scientists analyzed data on global vegetation to create the maps. They used NASA’s Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) onboard ICESat and the agency’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites.
Among the many forests examined is the Amazon.
“The Amazon was considered a substantial carbon sink because of large tracts of pristine forest that soak up carbon dioxide,” said Sassan Saatchi, principal scientist at JPL and the study lead investigator.
“However, our results show that overall, the Amazon Basin is becoming almost neutral in terms of carbon balance because deforestation, degradation, and the impacts of warming, frequent droughts, and fires over the past two decades release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.”
Harris argued that their findings are significant as it help understand how regions around the world absorb and emit carbon dioxide.
“If we’re not getting these patterns right, we may be missing some of these ecosystems and how they’re affecting the carbon cycle.”