Young people today may see the Amazon rainforest shift into the Amazon savannah in their lifetimes. That's the takeaway of an alarming new study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change, reports USA Today. Researchers examined month-to-month satellite images of the rainforest from the last 20 years and concluded that the vast region—nicknamed the "lungs of the planet"—is in real danger of a permanent shift with huge global consequences, per CNN. Specifically, the scientists found that 75% of the rainforest is losing what they call resilience, reports the Washington Post. Meaning, the rainforest is losing its ability to bounce back from a host of problems ranging from deforestation to warmer temperatures.
"As a scientist, I am not supposed to have anxiety. But after reading this paper, I am very, very anxious," Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies, tells the Post. "This paper shows we are moving in the completely wrong direction," adds Nobre, who was not involved in the research. "If we exceed the tipping point, that’s very bad news." Previous studies have used computer simulations to reach a similarly bleak forecast, but this one is based on real-world data, notes CNN.
Lead author Chris Boulton of the UK's University of Exeter says it's impossible to predict with certainty when the tipping point might happen, given the size and complexity of the Amazon. But once it does arrive, the rainforest as we know it is expected to disappear relatively quickly and morph into a grassy savannah. "My hunch, for what it's worth, (is that) it could happen in the space of decades," says co-author Timothy M. Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. (Read more Amazon rainforest stories.)