Not only do tropical forests now emit double the amount of carbon they consume — they also release more of it than all vehicles in the United States, according to a new study.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, a climate change think-tank, found that tropical forests, once a “carbon sink,” actually release “a net source of (425 teragrams of) carbon to the atmosphere” each year, according to CNBC.
The researchers used laser technology and satellite images to see how the tropical forests have changed since 2003 and determined the forests now emit 862 teragrams of carbon while consuming just 437.
Alessandro Baccini, the study’s lead author, said in a statement that “these findings provide the world with a wake-up call on forests.”
“If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels,” he said, “we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon.”
Around 70 percent of tropical forest emissions are caused by degradation, and not deforestation, which just accounts for 10 to 15 percent, according to CBC.
The researchers said it’s the first time the effects of forest degradation — a more subtle form of damage to the tropics than deforestation — have been documented in a study, according to CBC.