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Amazon study finds natural brake on global warming

Global warming may be slowing as trees in the tropical forests of the Amazon are growing and dying much more quickly, new British research suggests.

The growth rate of trees in the Amazon Basin has nearly doubled in recent decades, which may have helped slow the earth from heating up, according to the research published by The Royal Society.

But the death rate of the trees has also accelerated, scientists warned.

They said the death rate was slower than the growth rate, apparently causing an increased biomass - or mass of living vegetation.

And the change in these areas - making up more than half of the Amazon rainforests - may have acted as a brake on global warming.

The increased biomass helps clean carbon dioxide from the air and slow its buildup in the atmosphere.

The most likely causes of the growth changes are identified as increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and surface air temperatures, and possible continent-wide changes in sunshine.

But researchers also warned the change cannot be taken for granted and could be reversed by deforestation.

Logging may also be leading to more forest fires because it lets in more sunlight, which dries up the forest floor.

Saving the world's remaining rainforests also requires a committed effort to move away from burning fossil fuels, the scientists said.

In an issue devoted to tropical rainforests, The Royal Society's publication, Philosophical Transactions B, carries 17 reports from scientists across the globe.

Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Edinburgh, a contributing scientist and one of the publication's editors, said: "In the 21st century, we are moving into a human-made atmospheric and climatic situation that has not been experienced on Earth for at least 20 million years.

"We are deeply concerned with how the Earth's most biodiverse ecosystems will respond to these changes."

The journal will be available in March from the Royal Society and at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk.

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 For archive purposes, this article is being stored on Kewe.info website
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.