Scientists have discovered that trees set ablaze in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest could contribute to melting glaciers in the Himalayas and Antarctica because distant ecosystems essential to regulating the Earth’s climate are more closely connected than previously thought.
According to a paper published this month in Nature Climate Change, scientists have discovered a new atmospheric pathway that originates in the Amazon, runs along the South Atlantic, then across East Africa and the Middle East until it reaches central Asia. That connection, which stretches 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) across the globe, means that when the Amazon warms, so does the Tibetan Plateau, whereas the more it rains in the Amazon, the less it rains in Tibet.
It is a first of its kind of study to look into the interaction between ecosystems at risk of reaching a climate tipping point – a point of no return that would transform them irreversibly. More significantly, the newly-discovered pathway suggests that the collapse of one ecosystem could destabilise others too, leading to a cascade of tipping events across the planet, adds Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the report.
Scientists are only beginning to investigate the connections between far-flung components of the planet’s climate system. It is only the beginning of scientific research to understand the full impact of global warming, which is caused by greenhouse gas emissions and is already rising sea levels and leading to more severe floods, drought, and wildfires on every continent.
In its latest report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted how there is an increased probability that the Amazon will cross a tipping point. What remains to be seen is how it might affect the Himalayas, one of the world’s great reserves of freshwater, which is already seeing unprecedented glacial melt.