Over the years, the Amazon rainforest has gone from absorbing carbon dioxide that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere, to emitting it.
A study published in Nature on Wednesday found that humans are threatening its ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which will leave traumatic consequences for the entire planet.
The Amazon basin is roughly eighty to ninety percent of the size of the continental U.S. and contains 2.8 million square miles of jungle. This is more than half of Earth's remaining tropical rainforests, storing 123 billion tons of carbon in trees and in the soil.
"Roughly half of the CO2 that we've omitted from fossil fuels has been absorbed by either the oceans or the land — and that's roughly a fifty-fifty split," John Miller, one of the study's lead authors, told CBS News. "So there's this huge climate mitigation service that we're getting for free, and global warming would be much worse if trees were not taking this up."
Even though the Amazon has been known for absorbing more carbon than it releases, studies have recently shown that it's actually losing its ability to retain carbon dioxide.
When the Amazon's southeastern and northeastern regions experience drier seasons, the forests release more carbon than they have in the past.
"Eastern Amazon sites have warmed by as much as about 0.6 Degrees Celsius per decade during the dry season over the past fourty years," a Nature news release about the study said. This shows that the Amazon rainforest is no longer the "sink" it used to be.
If the trend continues, scientists believe the amount of carbon dioxide emitted will be twice as high as pre-industrial levels in roughly fifty-five years.
"There are certain parts of the Amazon, such as the southeast, you could go into a tipping point, where the ecosystem that would be best matched with that rainfall and temperature conditions would actually be a savannah as opposed to a tropical rainforest," Miller said.
"It's a really big warning that we're seeing happening over a really pretty significant area. And if we don't take steps now to try and adjust our policies on both deforestation and emissions reduction from fossil fuel burning, things are going to get worse,"
So, how do we reduce our carbon emissions?
According to COTAP.ORG driving less can contribute to protecting the rainforests as well as reducing your home energy carbon emissions by insulating and sealing your home, using less light around your house, and even installing solar panels.
You can also cut down on beef or dairy as well as sourcing locally produced and organic food!
To find out more, click here.