Study shows a domino effect of degradation and imminent threat to an Amazon tipping point

For every 100 trees deforested in the Amazon, 22 additional trees die in regions distant from the deforestation due to lack of water. This is the conclusion of the most recent research released by Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio). The publication presents new findings on how deforestation impacts different areas of the forest, by simulating millions of hypothetical deforestation scenarios over the next 30 years.

Juliano Assunção, Executive Director at CPI/PUC-Rio, explains the extent to which deforestation affects rainfall dynamics, leading to a domino effect of degradation in other forest areas. “When an area is deforested, the humidity of the air is not recharged, generating less rainfall downwind. So downwind areas start degrading. And, in a domino effect, new areas, further downwind, begin degrading”, explains.

The researchers also identify the extent of this domino effect in the Amazon. Approximately 20% of the Amazon has already been deforested. Rafael Araujo, senior analyst at CPI/PUC-Rio highlights: “Even if deforestation were to stop entirely, this would lead to an additional 13% of areas becoming degraded over the next 30 years. If, however, deforestation continues, reaching a threshold of 40%, this will lead to an additional 20% of degraded forest over the next 30 years.”

If deforestation increases by 20%, the Amazon would lose around 60% of its vegetation density. Without sufficient vegetation cover, there would not be enough rainfall to sustain the forest. The Amazon would reach a tipping point, leading to climate collapse.

Certain parts of the forest are already showing signs of instability, losing their ability to recover and to sink carbon, becoming carbon sources. If the Amazon reaches a tipping point, the impacts would be devastating, not only for Brazil but worldwide.

The forest is a crucial carbon sink for the entire world. The loss of its 400 billion trees would emit as much carbon as five years of global emissions. If it happens, it would be impossible to achieve climate goals and limit global warming to 1.5ºC.

According to Araujo, it is critical that policymakers understand the collateral effects of deforestation and fight forest degradation. “Public policies should focus on actions that effectively prevent widespread deforestation and increase forest resilience”, he states.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The High Performance Computing (HPC) from AWS was crucial in enabling the simulation of millions of hypothetical deforestation scenarios over 30 years. To rapidly scale this project, AWS ParallelCluster was used, which allowed for data processing that would take at least a year, to be processed in just one day.

“Technology is a powerful tool to help governments and institutions understand and develop strategies to address pressing problems in our society and environment. We are proud to be able to offer AWS cloud computing solutions for a project of this magnitude,” said Paulo Cunha, general director of AWS for the public sector in Brazil.

Read the publication in full:

About CPI/PUC-Rio

CPI is an analysis and advisory organization with deep expertise in finance and policy. CPI has six offices around the world. In Brazil, CPI has a partnership with PUC-Rio. CPI/PUC-Rio supports public policies in Brazil through evidence-based research and strategic partnerships with members of the government and civil society.

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