BRASILIA, Brazil – The Amazon deserves to be called the “lungs of the world,”as new projections show it is a net producer of oxygen despite widespreadburning of the jungle, scientists said.
The projections show that the trees in the world’s largest tropical forest arecleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide. The data collected indicates thatthe Amazon absorbs slightly more carbon dioxide than the burning spews out.
“The indication is that it is a small net supplier of oxygen,” saidPaulo Artaxo, a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo.
That conclusion is based on the latest projections made possible by the LargeScale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, the world’s leading study ofjungle deforestation.
Experts are meeting this week in Brasilia to discuss the findings of theseries of experiments, which started in 1998 and are conducted by Brazilian andforeign organizations, including the U.S. space agency NASA.
The results are based on data collected by 14 observation towers in thejungles, which scientists use to monitor carbon dioxide, wind, temperaturelevels and weather conditions. The full findings are not yet ready butprojections are.
Scientists have long thought that the Amazon is a net producer of oxygen. Theissue is politically sensitive in Brazil because it reinforces environmentalists’calls to stop Amazon burning, which hit its second-highest level last year.
“This situation can be extremely advantageous for Brazil,” saidArtaxo. “There is just the problem of the burning.”
The Amazon, home to up to 30 percent of the world’s animal and plant species,covers an area of continuous forest larger than the continental United States.
An area of 5.9 million acres, bigger than the U.S. state of New Jersey, wasdestroyed as loggers and farmers hacked and burned the forest in 2003.Scientists warned at the conference that rising temperatures and decliningrainfall are accelerating its disappearance.
Scientists at the conference said there is additional sensitivity surroundingthe Amazon’s absorption of carbon dioxide because the government is expected topublish this year a long-delayed inventory of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The report is expected to show that Brazil is among the world’s 10 toppolluters and that 75 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions come from Amazonburning. It will be first official confirmation of that information.
Under the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which Brazil hassigned, the country is obliged to produce an inventory of its pollution. Theproblem is that under the international agreement the inventory will not includecarbon dioxide absorption.