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Posted Thu Feb 10 2011: from Guardian:
Mass tree deaths prompt fears of Amazon 'climate tipping point'
Billions of trees died in the record drought that struck the Amazon in 2010, raising fears that the vast forest is on the verge of a tipping point, where it will stop absorbing greenhouse gas emissions and instead increase them. The dense forests of the Amazon soak up more than one-quarter of the world's atmospheric carbon, making it a critically important buffer against global warming. But if the Amazon switches from a carbon sink to a carbon source that prompts further droughts and mass tree deaths, such a feedback loop could cause runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences. "Put starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world's largest forest," said tropical forest expert Simon Lewis, at the University of Leeds, and who led the research published today in the journal Science.... He said increasing droughts in the Amazon are found in some climate models, including the sophisticated model used by the Hadley centre. This means the 2005 and 2010 droughts are consistent with the idea that global warming will cause more droughts in future, emit more carbon, and potentially lead to runaway climate change. "The greenhouse gases we have already emitted may mean there are several more droughts in the pipeline," he said.
[Read more stories about: carbon emissions, drought, carbon sinks, rain forest depletion, weather extremes, tipping point]

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