Rates of Hothouse Gas Accumulation Continue to Spike as the Amazon Rainforest Bleeds Carbon

Back in June, atmospheric carbon monitors indicated that the Amazon Rainforest was leeching out more carbon dioxide than it was taking in. This is kind of a big deal — because the vast expanse of trees and vegetation in the Amazon represents a gift nature has given to us. For all that lush vegetation draws in a considerable amount of carbon dioxide and stores it in leaves, wood, bark and soil. And this draw-down, in its turn, considerably reduces the overall rate of atmospheric carbon accumulation coming from human fossil fuel burning.

Over the years and decades, this great service has saved the world from an even more rapid warming than it is presently experiencing. But not even the great forests could stand for long against the unprecedented plume of carbon coming from human fossil fuel industry. For the great belching of heat-trapping gas by all the world’s engines, furnaces, and fires is equal to about 4 or 5 of the Siberian flood basalts that triggered the worst hothouse extinction event in Earth’s deep history.

And so the world has warmed very rapidly regardless of the mighty effort on the part of forests like the Amazon. And that very heat is now harming the trees and damaging the earth to which they are wed. For when soils warm, the carbon they take in is leached out. And along with the heat comes fires that can, in a matter of minutes, reduce trees to ash and return the captured heat-trapping carbon to the world’s airs.

Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation Increasing Despite Plateau in Human Carbon Emissions

Now such a destructive process appears to be well under way. And it seems that an apparent blow-back of greenhouse gasses from one of the world’s largest carbon sinks is presently ongoing even as rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation are spiking. For in 2016, the world is now on track to see a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase in the range of 3.2 to 3.55 parts per million.

mlo_one_year

(During 2015, atmospheric CO2 increased by a record annual rate of 3.05 ppm. This happened during the build-up of one of the strongest El Ninos on record. But as a weak La Nina settled in during late 2016 and equatorial Pacific Ocean waters cooled, annual rates of carbon dioxide accumulation is again on track to hit a new record high. During mid-November, daily CO2 readings hit above 405 parts per million. An indication that rates of accumulation had not at all backed off from present record highs. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

This rapid build-up is occurring despite a shift to La Nina — in which somewhat cooler ocean surfaces tend to take in more atmospheric carbon — and despite a pause in the rate of carbon emissions increase from fossil fuel related industry around the world.

The Amazon as Surface Carbon Emissions Hot Spot

Large equatorial forests like the Amazon are now producing hothouse gasses rather than taking them in. In the Copernicus Observatory’s surface CO2 measure, we find areas over the Amazon Rainforest where concentrations range between 500 and 800 parts per million — or up to nearly double the present average global atmospheric concentration.

global-surface-carbon-dioxide

(Very high surface CO2 concentrations over the Amazon Rainforest and West Africa are an indication that key global carbon sinks aren’t functioning. Instead, at least for the period of June through November of 2016, they appear to be emitting very high volumes of stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

Desertifying and drying forested regions of West Africa also show rather high localized surface CO2 spikes. And both areas are among those displaying highest total column atmospheric CO2 concentrations. According to NASA thermal monitoring, wildfires are also quite extensive in these zones. Meanwhile, the global drought monitor indicates that both the Amazon and West Africa have experienced exceptional drought, not only for the most recent year, but over the past 4 years through October of 2016. And it’s the combined drying and burning that is likely pumping all that carbon out of soils and forests.

Carbon Sink Transitioning to Source

During both 2005 and 2010, scientific studies found that the Amazon briefly lost its ability to act as a carbon sink. Now, it appears that another period of a loss of functioning of the ‘world’s lungs’ has occurred. But in this case, the Amazon, and parts of West Africa, appear to be consistently emitting carbon dioxide rather than taking it in.

It has long been a concern among climate scientists that human carbon emissions at the rate of nearly 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent gasses each year would eventually harm the world’s forests, oceans, lands, glaciers and permafrost zones’ ability to take in that unprecedented carbon spike. And here we have at least some indication that this has happened, at least during 2016 and hopefully not extending over a longer period.

Links:

The Copernicus Observatory

The Keeling Curve

NASA — EOSDIS

Siberian Traps

The Climate of Gavin

World’s Largest Rainforest is Starting to Bleed Greenhouse Gasses

2016 on Track for Record Rate of CO2 Increase

Hat tip to Umbrios

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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35 Comments

    • Thanks for this. Very informative. Highly recommended.

      Reply
    • Scientific American gave this info a title that alarmed me:Nature
      Environment
      Antarctica’s Southern Ocean May No Longer Help Delay Global Warming

      Researchers are studying the ocean’s carbon dynamics to improve predictions for sea level and temperature rise

      Reply
  1. miles h

     /  November 18, 2016

    they really need to change the colour scale on the map…. its all reds! a more complicated solution would, of course, be to reduce atmospheric CO2, but for now, fiddling with the map might be simpler.
    shocking that the colour bands which must have been useful even quite recently are now all but redundant.

    Reply
  2. bostonblorp

     /  November 18, 2016

    On a whim I looked at whether Iceland was doing anything to reforest its lands. Having visited there I can confirm it’s a pretty barren landscape. If they could get back to 40% cover that would be a small (AGW speaking) but meaningful carbon sink.

    http://grapevine.is/news/2016/06/07/government-unites-behind-reforestation-of-iceland/

    Reply
    • Well, it would basically kill the right to political free speech. Welcome to the oppressive reign of the republican party.

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  November 19, 2016

        Welcome to 1970’s Argentina

        Reply
      • John S

         /  November 20, 2016

        Welcome to 1970 Queensland.

        Well not entirely, but groups of more than 5 people were classed as illegal assemblies and harassed/arrested by the police.

        The then Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson governed at one time with 27% of the popular vote, testament to the power of gerrymander.

        The Democrats really need to urgently take back the state legislatures and grass roots politics before the next redistricting after 2020 census and undo as much as they can of the REDMAP damage. Until then they are screwed, they’re giving away 5 points to the GOP before any votes are cast.

        Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  November 19, 2016

      ml, this is a thoroughly predictable outcome. They will eventually criminalise climate science as ‘terrorist alarmism’ designed to further China’s ambitions. They invented it all, didn’t they. I find that when I get most cynical and pessimistic that I get the most accurate premonitions. The climate is going through a ‘phase change’ and so are US politics. We, here in Australia, can see similar developments nascent, pushed on, as in all things malevolent, by the Murdoch MSM.

      Reply
    • John S

       /  November 20, 2016

      mm, looks like next Queensland election will see local Trump Pauline Hanson garner unprecedented support as the contagion spreads. And as you well know her CC adviser is the twit Senator Malcolm Roberts.
      Trump could well be a stepping stone to an even more horribly dystopian politico not just in America.

      Reply
      • mulga mumblebrain

         /  November 20, 2016

        The red-head, a creature of John Howard, if you remember well, is the living embodiment of what forty years of total Rightwing dominance will do to a society. Trump looks like Nelson Mandela next to her. I’ve just been reading of a UK Conservative female who says her two heroes are Mandela and Thatcher-you can’t make this stuff up.

        Reply
        • With the rise of nationalist politics like Brexit, Duterte, Trump etc. it looks like the world is turning to strongly authoritarian politics. This is one of the options available to us as our planetary situation worsens, but there are other options we might still choose. Exceptionalism/nationalism, conflict, walls, refusal to engage in global cooperation to address global problems – these responses to AGW seem likely to make the situation worse rather than better. Prisoner’s dilemma

  3. This is a scary read.

    It seems that in so many ways, on so many fronts, we are modifying the carbon sinks that have (so far) been helping absorb our CO2 emissions. Either the effectiveness of the sink is being reduced, or worse, a (former) sink becomes a source of emissions. This is happening with oceans warming, deforestation, wildfires, drought, thawing permafrost…

    Recent research suggests Global Warming Increases Earth’s Sensitivity to Greenhouse Gases

    Might the reduction of effective sinks be one of the mechanism leading to this?

    Reply
  4. Thank you very much for the hat tip!

    And trying to add context (though I coudn´t find a link in English, and even in Portuguese, there´s very few articles about it), the Amazon is now in it´s third “century drought” of the last 15 years… centuries seem to mean about 5 years now (2005, 2010 and 2016):
    http://www.agencia.ac.gov.br/depasa-realiza-acoes-emergenciais-em-acrelandia/

    River Acre (one of the main rivers in the South of Amazon) reached his lowest measured depth (since 1970, but that´s because no one measured it before) in August. It reached 1,32m deep in Rio Branco, Acre state capital. Things have gotten a little better since August (and the end of the dry season, though rains haven´t come in full yet), but the drought goes on.

    Things are bad enough to risk having Acre isolated by land from the rest of the country. In the only road leaving Acre, BR-364, there´s a ferry over the Madeira river (which is also very low right now), and the river is too low to allow the ferry to cross (it stayed still for a few weeks in August). Diplomatic measures were needed to ask Bolivia for permission to change Jirau´s dam levels (which, after the floods in 2014, were established in a treaty), and keep Madeira river navigable.

    In 2014, river Acre reached 18,40m deep (junction of heavy rains and a clogged hidrological river system caused by the dams of Jirau and Santo Antonio), one very ilustrative example of the “either flood or drought” .

    The dry forest has many tree deaths (during the 2005 drought, some millenial trees died… and this drough is as bad as that), and it allows for easier deforesting, both by use of tractors and chains and by use of fire. Financial troubles in Brasil have badly curtailled the efforts to combat deforestation (we received fuel for viatures only now in November, for example). That and, the focus in the Olympic Games, the new “Forest” code (deforestation in the Amazon is going up since that law was ratified, as expected, since it gave full amnesty to deforestation that happened before 2008, and now farmers are expecting that if laws get applied again, another amnesty will come)…

    Amazon´s forest is might, but it´s being attacked in so may fronts…

    Reply
    • Thank you, Umbrios. You have enriched me greatly. I am greatful to so many of you. My only regret is that I haven’t shown enough thanks to all the people here and elsewhere who deserve it. More than anything, I think we are going to need each others’ support.

      Reply
      • Robert, we are very grateful to you to. For your articles, for the incredible research and writing, for the upkeep of this forum. You´ve enabled us to help each other here, and I´ll keep trying to help in what I can.

        Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  November 19, 2016

      umbrios, here in Australia, the same destructive drives forge on. The regimes in Queensland and New South Wales, both large states (1,730,000 and 800.000 square kilometres respectively)have destroyed laws preventing land clearing, to allow massive broad-scale destruction. The previous laws were brought in as part of our deal to sign Kyoto, that gave us massive benefits on the understanding that we would cease or greatly reduce land-clearing. But, hey-what are undertakings and solemn agreements when money and Rightwing ideology are at work?
      The land-clearing will also worsen run-off and siltation of the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s cactus, anyway, although the Right, led by the Murdoch cancer, even deny that it is in any trouble. It’ll help finish off koalas, too, but, who cares? Oh, and another Rightwing regime in Tasmania (where cool montane forests burned for the first time in 1.000 years last year)has simply torn up a forest agreement and intends logging the Tarkine, our largest remaining temperate rain-forest. You’d almost think that they want to finish us off as fast as possible.

      Reply
      • Yes, it´s a sad state… the forests that could help us are being attacked worldwide. I try to remember the saying “There´s no need to atribute to cruelty that which can be attributed to mankind´s infinity dumbness”, but it´s hard to believe that the ultra-rich doing those things don´t have ulterior motives…

        And sometimes they really do. Lava-jato Operation (and others… team Lava-Jato started a move that´s gaining more and more moment, and I hope this will be unstopabble), here in Brasil, has show that some of the most damaging things of late in the Amazon (the building of Jirau, Santo Antonio and Belo Monte dams, the approval of the new “Forest” Code) have happened because of corrupted money, flowing from the ultrarich (Camargo Correia, Marcelo Odebretch, Ricardo Cavendish and others) to politicians to enable those same ultrarich to get even richer with public money.

        Individualize the gains, spread the damage. They can´t even justify it by that same old excuse that it “benefits the economy”, because my country´s economy is now in its knees because of this. The only thing that helps is that a lot of those “players” are in jail now, and a lot more of them already have rooms booked there.

        Reply
  5. And if someone is wondering about the effects of that much carbon dioxide over the forest… there are some scientists wondering the same and making experiments of it too: https://amazonface.org/

    Reply
  6. Reblogged this on uddeer and commented:
    The Donald says the Chinese made up this hoax. WRONG by a long shot.

    Reply
  7. Does anyone here have anymore info on this?

    U.S. Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing: Five Feet Of Sea Level Rise By 2050 Possible

    “Pershing had met earlier with State Department Secretary John Kerry in Morocco at the 22nd UN Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP22. Kerry had just returned from a trip to Antarctica. According to Pershing, Kerry told him that the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica “is moving very fast and when it goes, we will see 1.5 meters of sea level rise by 2050.”

    “Five feet of sea level rise in less than 35 years — that is really soon,” said Pershing. “There are 65 million people now living in a state of conflict and 140 million who live less than 3 feet above sea level. Extrapolate to an amount two or three times the level of conflict we have now, and you see that this is a huge crisis. If we are lucky, we will have fewer people displaced, but I’m not optimistic that small island states can be saved.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daphne-wysham/us-climate-envoy-jonathan_b_13070296.html?

    Reply
  8. @mlparrish. Yes. It was in today’s Seattle Times. Here in Washington we have our fair share of dangerous fascist Republicans. Ex-Washington nfler Clint Didier lives near Yakima and has run for ,I believe, senator. He advocatedletting sick people die. Quite a piece of work.

    Reply
  9. I have been wondering about this problem because the daily average readings for several days in a row have been above 4 ppm increase of the same day in 2015. Daily average is a very noisy number so I am waiting for the next weekly average comparison, but I have not been watching individual areas like the Amazon, I only track the global as measured at Mauna Loa. Runaway warming was the concern that got me started tracking the daily MLO numbers about a year ago. Scientists bristle when their models are questioned, but I have to say, the models may be useful in some limited ways, but they are generally crap at predicting the rate and type of change that is occurring. Lots of predictions about how much things will change by 2100, but not much recognition that the predictions are arriving way early. Just ask the Arctic sea ice creatures if you need confirmation.

    Reply
  10. Jeremy in Wales

     /  November 18, 2016

    On the brighter side of climate news the UKs own buffoon Boris Johnson has signed the UK up to the Paris agreement after he flirted with denialists
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/17/uk-boris-johnson-ratifies-paris-climate-agreement
    and even this right wing UK government has agreed to close the last 6 coal power plants down by 2025, the energy firms may even have them closed by 2022. This includes Aberthaw near Barry, Wales, which has been in breach of EU NOX limits for years and dumps heated cooling waters straight back in the sea. This one power station in 45 years has burned through close on 100 million tonnes of coal.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/uk-should-retain-carbon-price-floor-to-support-coal-phase-out-report
    While the UK Government wants to burn through fracked gas there is some renewable competition is springing up – gas from grass
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/could-gas-from-grass-rival-fracking-to-heat-uk-homes
    Dale Vince and Ecotricity have a decent track record here in the UK. I would add we could do the same with garden waste and food waste both of which are now collected seperately, although just composted and cattle waste when under cover.

    Reply
  11. Abel Adamski

     /  November 19, 2016

    https://climatecrocks.com/2016/11/18/could-arctic-sea-ice-be-simple/

    For every new tonne of CO2 that enters the atmosphere, says the paper, the southern edge of the sea ice loses another three square metres. That’s it.

    Reply
  1. Rates of Hothouse Gas Accumulation Continue to Spike as the Amazon Rainforest Bleeds Carbon | GarryRogers Nature Conservation
  2. Rates of Hothouse Gas Accumulation Continue to Spike as the Amazon Rainforest Bleeds Carbon – MI-VU
  3. Links December 2016 | Mato's Blog

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