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How the forest dies

Washington Post: “The Amazon is going dry. In one parched corner, a desperate wait for water is only just beginning. For years, scientists have been warning that the Amazon is speeding toward a tipping point — the moment when deforestation and global warming would trigger an irreversible cascade of climatic forces, killing large swaths of what remained. If somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the forest were lost, models suggested, much of the Amazon would perish. About 18 percent of the rainforest is now gone, and the evidence increasingly supports the warnings. Whether or not the tipping point has arrived — and some scientists think it has — the Amazon is beginning to collapse. More than three-quarters of the rainforest, research indicates, is showing signs of lost resilience. In fire-scorched areas of the Rio Negro floodplains, one research group noted a “drastic ecosystem shift” that has reduced jungle to savanna. In the southeastern Amazon, which has been assaulted by rapacious cattle ranching, trees are dying off and being pushed aside by species better acclimated to drier climes. In the southwestern Amazon, fast-growing bamboo is overtaking lands ravaged by fire and drought. And in the devastated transitional forests of Mato Grosso state, researchers believe a local tipping point is imminent. The rainforest has never been closer to what scientists predict would be a global calamity. Because it stores an estimated 123 billion tons of carbon, the Amazon is seen as vital to forestalling catastrophic global warming.”

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