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Amazonian forests will be saved by the rain

AMAZONIAN forests may be less vulnerable to dying off from global warming than feared because many projections underestimate rainfall, according to the latest study.

The report, by scientists in Britain, said Brazil and other nations in the region would also have to act to help avert any irreversible drying of the eastern Amazon, the region most at risk from climate change, deforestation and fires.

"The rainfall regime in eastern Amazonia is likely to shift over the 21st century in a direction that favours more seasonal forests rather than savannah," they wrote in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seasonal forests have wet and dry seasons rather than the current rainforest, which is permanently drenched. That shift could favour new species of trees, other plants and animals. The findings contrast with past projections that the Amazon forest could die and be replaced by savannah.

A 2007 report by the United Nations Climate Panel, which is a snapshot of global warming science by the world's leading experts, said: "By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia."

The new study said almost all of 19 global climate models underestimated rainfall after scientists compared the models with observations of 20th-century climate.

Lowland forests in the Amazon have annual average rainfall of 2,400mm, it said. Projected cuts in rainfall meant the region would still be wet enough to sustain a forest.

But lead author Yadvinder Malhi from Oxford University said governments, led by Brazil, needed to manage the forests better.

Global warming is "accompanied by an unprecedented intensity of direct pressure on the tropical forests through logging, deforestation, fragmentation, and fire use," the scientists wrote.


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