Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements

05 February 2014


Nature 506, 76–80 (06 February 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12957 Received 24 May 2013 Accepted 12 December 2013 Published online 05 February 2014


As climates change, the lush tropical ecosystems of the Amazon Basin may release more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorb, according to a new study in Nature. An international team, including scientists from Oxford, found that the amount of yearly rainfall was the driving factor behind the amount of carbon dioxide taken up and released from Amazonia in 2010 and 2011. During a wet year, the Amazon forests were roughly carbon-neutral: Forests "inhaled" more carbon dioxide than they "exhaled," but biomass burning, which releases carbon dioxide, compensated for the difference. In contrast, during a very dry year forest growth stalled and biomass burning increased, resulting in the region "exhaling" substantial amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.