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Special report: Catastrophic drought in the Amazon

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Rio Negro, BrazilA widespread drought in the Amazon rainforest last year caused the "lungs of the world" to produce more carbon dioxide than they absorbed, potentially leading to a dangerous acceleration of global warming. Scientists have calculated that the 2010 drought was more intense than the "one-in-100-year" drought of 2005.

They are predicting it will result in some eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being expelled from the Amazon rainforest, which is more than the total annual carbon emissions of the United States. For the second time in less than a decade, the earth's greatest rainforest released more carbon dioxide than it absorbed because many of its trees dried out and died.

Scientists believe that the highly unusual nature of the two droughts, which occurred in the space of just five years, may be the result of higher sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, which could also be influenced by global warming caused by the release of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The Anglo-Brazilian team of researchers has emphasised that there is as yet no proof that the two highly unusual droughts in the Amazon are the direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but the scientists have warned that the world is gambling with its future if it fails to curb fossil fuel emissions.


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