How Amazon degradation affects the ecosystem in Tibet
Published on January 27, 2023
What if deforestation and the degradation of the Amazon forest affect the ecosystems of Tibet on the other side of the world? This is shown by a study that helps us understand how global ecosystems are interconnected.
Climate and environmental issues are extremely complex and sometimes difficult to understand. For example, without realizing it, planetary ecosystems are interconnected, and environmental changes that occur in one place can sometimes have consequences elsewhere. For example, the structure of the winds at the level of the North Pole mainly determines the weather conditions in the northern hemisphere, especially in Europe. When wind eddies are altered in the Arctic, ecosystems can be affected hundreds of kilometers away.
These interactions between ecosystems are increasingly being studied by scientists, especially ecologists and climatologists. Moreover, it is climatologists who have just confirmed one of these interactions between two very distant zones of the planet: the Amazon forest and the high plateau of Tibet. According to their research, environmental changes in the Amazon Basin are causing environmental disruption in the Himalayas.
How the Amazon affects the global climate
To understand this interaction between two unrelated ecosystems, the researchers first investigated whether there was a correlation between the climate anomalies of the Amazon region and the climate anomalies of the Tibetan Plateau. Using climate models based on measurements of changes in air temperature at ground level, researchers were able to demonstrate that climate changes in the Amazon region are linked to changes in other regions: Antarctica, the permafrost zones of Siberia, the American boreal forests or even the Tibetan Plateau.
Like El Niño, whose effects are felt across half of the planet, climate disturbances associated with atmospheric cycles and water cycles in the Amazon have consistent consequences for other regions of the world. For example, we know that the Amazon is one of the areas with the most intense moisture cycles: the presence of rivers and dense forests helps evaporation, and therefore the air that circulates in the Amazon zone is loaded with moisture, which is then loaded with moisture. planet, causing specific rainfall patterns in different regions of the world. Blame it on the complex, interconnected climate system and circulation between the various air masses on the planet. And then what happens to the Tibetan Plateau?
“Telewar” between Amazon and Tibet
Prompted by the analysis of the models, climatologists realized that there is a very strong relationship between the climate conditions of the Amazon and the climate conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Thanks to winds and atmospheric circulation currents across the globe, air masses circulate between Amazonia and Tibet, crossing it across the South Atlantic Ocean and moving towards Africa and Asia. The Himalayas. Schematically, this cycle takes the form of the following image:
As a result, the climatic conditions around the Amazon basin can influence those in Tibet. So when it’s hotter in the Amazon, we see the temperature rise rapidly in Tibet as well. But it does not stop at temperature. Indeed, if the air circulating in the Amazon is less laden with moisture, it will release less water (or rather snow) when it reaches the Tibetan Plateau. The more rain in the Amazon, the less snow in Tibet.
Degradation of the Amazon affects the Tibetan ecosystem
The strong connection between these two areas may be extremely important for the evolution of global ecosystems in the context of the global environmental crisis and global warming.
Indeed, the Amazon has been undergoing rapid degradation for decades. Whether due to deforestation or global warming, the Amazon is gradually losing its functions as a carbon sink and driver of global moisture. Rainfall regimes are already being disrupted in the Amazon, and forest canopy degradation is locally limiting evaporation. But with this study, we know that this local degradation will affect other areas, especially the Tibetan Plateau.
This plateau is considered the planetary “third pole” because it plays a central role in the global water cycle. The area is home to the largest fresh water reserves on the planet outside of the ice caps and is the point of origin of almost all major Asian rivers (from the Mekong to the Indus, the Yangtze and many others). 2-3 billion people directly depend on the water resources of the Tibetan Plateau.
Towards a tipping point in Tibet?
However, scientists have proven for several years that this ecosystem is extremely weakened by climate change and general degradation of ecosystems. And the interaction between the Amazon and the Tibetan Plateau only strengthens this weakening. Deforestation of the Amazon and especially strong global warming are helping to bring more heat to the Tibetan Plateau and make the snowpack more uncertain, which is important for the production of local drinking water.
After that, the whole ecosystem and all the river basins downstream are disrupted. In their research, scientists mention a possible “tipping point” for the Tibetan Plateau. And even if, for example, the brutality of environmental changes in the Amazon causes ecological ruptures in Tibet.
This is one more reason to protect the Amazon and, in general, all world ecosystems that sometimes have ecological functions at the other end of the planet.
Photo by Johnny James on Unsplash
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