Skip to main content

Extreme El Niño weather switched off South American’s carbon sink

Press release

Tropical forests in South America lose their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere when conditions become exceptionally hot and dry, according to new research.

For a long time, tropical forests have acted as a carbon sink, taking more carbon out of the air than they release into it, a process that has moderated the impact of climate change.

Of the 123 plots studied, 119 of them experienced an average monthly temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celsius. 99 of the plots also suffered water deficits. Where it was hotter, it was also drier.

A member of the fieldwork team using a ladder to take measurements from a tree. Picture: Emilio Vilanova

A member of the fieldwork team taking measurements from one of the trees. Picture: Emilio Vilanova

For Professor Oliver Phillips, an ecologist at the University of Leeds who supervised the research and leads the global ForestPlots initiative, the findings offered hope about the resilience of the South American tropical nature.

For more details, please contact David Lewis in the press office at the University of Leeds by email:

Top image shows the valley forest at Chapada de Guimaraes, Brasil. It is the kind of peripheral Amazon forest that is especially vulnerable to drought. Picture: Rainfor