Environment Forum

Amazon’s drought, seen from space

AMAZON/DROUGHTHow green is the Amazon?

Not as green as it used to be, as shown in an analysis of satellite images made during last year’s record-breaking drought.

Because greenness is an indication of health in the Amazon, a decline in this measurement means this vast area is getting less healthy — bad news for biodiversity and some native peoples in the region.

What does a drop in the greenness index look like? It looks gold, orange and red in a graphic accompanying an article to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

Gray areas are the norm, based on a decade of satellite observations that cover every acre (actually every square kilometer) on the planet. Dots that are gold, orange or deep red show areas with a decrease in greenness. Scientists call this the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI on this chart) or the greenness index.530983main_NDVI_JAS_2010_full_1

The chart shows what happened during July, August and September of 2010, the height of the dry season — a deep loss of greenness. The researchers found that the 2010 drought reduced the greenness of approximately 965,000 square miles (2.5 million square kilometers) of vegetation in the Amazon,  more than four times the area affected by the last severe drought in 2005.

The Green Gauge: Sinar Mas under fire

An aerial view is seen of a cleared forest area under development for palm oil plantations in Kapuas Hulu district of Indonesia's West Kalimantan province

Indonesia’s Sinar Mas came under heavy fire last week from non-government organization Greenpeace as a report named and shamed some of its biggest clients for their role in the destruction of rainforest and peatlands.

Following is a breakdown of the companies that made headlines July 3 to 16 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity, led by Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Better Than A Rainforest? Air Capture Climate Technology Gets A Closer Look

It sounds almost too good to be true: new technology that would be better than carbon neutral — it would be carbon negative, taking more climate-warming carbon dioxide out of the air than factories and vehicles put in. It’s called air capture technology, and Reuters took a look at some promising versions of it on October 1.

This technology is expected to help some of the world’s poorest countries capitalize on any global carbon market, which would put a price on carbon emissions and let rich companies that spew lots of carbon buy carbon credits from poor companies and countries that emit less. The least developed countries emit very little carbon now. But the way the carbon market is set up under the Kyoto Protocol, this puts them at a disadvantage. If you don’t emit a lot it’s tough to get access to financing and clean technology under the current rules.

Most of these less-developed countries are going to be on the front lines of climate change, if they’re not there already. The predicted ravages of a changing climate, including droughts, floods and wildfires, would hurt them worst and first. The idea is that they need to develop, to give themselves a cushion against these disasters. To develop, they need energy. And usually, getting energy has meant spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, adding to the climate change that caused the problem in the first place.

The Amazon, the Pyramid and the Eiffel Tower

The Amazon rainforest lost trees and plants in a 2005 drought – shedding carbon equivalent to the weight of 140,000 Eiffel Towers or almost 200 Great Pyramids of Giza.

The drought, one of the worst in the past century, revealed the forest’s unexpected vulnerability to shifting rainfall and a huge role in releasing greenhouse gases – compounding problems such as logging and land clearance to create farmland.

The study in today’s edition of the journal Science (see story here) showed that the forest lost the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of Europe and Japan during the drought — that’s five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon stored in vegetation. The drought killed off some trees and slowed growth of other vegetation.

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