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The Amazon rainforest is coming dangerously close to permanently converting into dry savannah

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications found that as much as 40% of the Amazon rainforest could become a savannah-like environment.

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(TMU) – A vast swathe of the Amazon is teetering on the brink of disaster and risks crossing the tipping point of transforming from a closed canopy rainforest teeming with life to an open savannah with few trees as climate conditions deprive the region of rainfall and effectively kill its unique ecosystem, scientists have warned.

Rainforests are extremely sensitive to even the slightest changes in rainfall and moisture levels, and extended periods of drought and fire can be devastating in areas that rely on rain for sustenance. In the Amazon, such conditions would transform the lush rainforest into a semi-arid savannah-like mixture of woodland and grassland while also boosting the risk of fire.

While such dramatic changes to the Amazon were believed to be worst-case scenarios that could happen decades away, a team of Europe-based scientists warned on Monday that the tipping point is now dangerously close.

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications found that as much as 40 percent of the existing Amazon rainforest is already seeing so little rainfall that it could exist as a savannah-like environment, deprived of its canopy-like tree coverage and with far less biodiversity.

Researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Center used computer models and data analysis to stimulate the effect of continued climate change resulting from emissions from burning fossil fuels from now until the end of the century to find the results.

Rainforests typically create their own rainfall through water vapor, which then sustains and even extends the reach of tree levels.

However, when rain levels plummet, forest land also begins to fade away and degrade – resulting in a drier landscape that becomes more susceptible to the ravages of fire, drought, and ultimately, total deforestation.

The situation in the Amazon has only grown worse as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has stubbornly pushed forward the opening of the rainforest to economic development, unleashing a wave of human-caused fires meant to illegally clear one of the region so that it can be exploited by miners, cattle ranchers, loggers, and big agricultural interests.

This year’s fires in the Brazilian Amazon are the worst in a decade, marking a dizzying 60 percent rise in fire hotspots compared to last year’s infamous blazes.

The rainforest is so delicate that even the most subtle changes in climate conditions can have an outsized impact on the ecological balance of the environment, said the study’s lead author, Arie Staal.

“As forests grow and spread across a region, this affects rainfall,” he told The Guardian. “Forests create their own rain because leaves give off water vapor and this falls as rain further downwind. Rainfall means fewer fires leading to even more forests.”

However, the loss of large areas of rainforest mean a precipitous drop in rainfall levels across the region.

“Drier conditions make it harder for the forest to recover and increase the flammability of the ecosystem,” Staal said.

At that point, the rainforest crosses a threshold and converts into a savannah-type environment – a conversion that is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

“It is harder to return from the ‘trap’ caused by the feedback mechanism in which the open, grassy ecosystem is more flammable, and the fires, in turn, keep the ecosystem open,” Staal said.

Experts have warned that the Amazon rainforest is a crucial barrier to the catastrophic breakdown of global climate conditions. Without the Amazon rainforest, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could become out of control and drive global warming to intolerable levels while the change in rainfall patterns could impact the entire Western Hemisphere.

Tragically, the loss of rainforests like the Amazon would also entail the extermination of a huge portion of global species.

“We understand now that rainforests on all continents are very sensitive to global change and can rapidly lose their ability to adapt,” said study co-author Ingo Fetzer of the Stockholm Research Center. “Once gone, their recovery will take many decades to return to their original state. And given that rainforests host the majority of all global species, all this will be forever lost.”

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Animals

Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

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A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.

In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.

“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.

Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.

Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.

Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.

Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.

However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.

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Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son

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A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.

The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.

The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.

The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.

The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.

“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.

The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.

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Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years

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Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.

Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.

The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.

Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.

It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.

“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”

Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.

Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.

“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.

“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”

Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.

“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.

Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.

“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”

In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.

Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.

A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.

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