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Amazon rainforest's record drought driven by global warming: Study

A new study says human-induced global warming made the severe drought 30 times more likely, leading to extremely high temperatures and lower rainfall

Global warming was the primary driver of last year's severe drought in the Amazon that sent rivers to record lows.
Global warming was the primary driver of last year's severe drought in the Amazon that sent rivers to record lows. (AP)

Since mid-2023, the Amazon River Basin has been facing a record drought that has led to the drying of rivers, affecting endangered dolphins, and severely affected the lives of millions of people in the region. Now, a new study reveals that climate change was the main driver of this severe drought.

The river basin comprises the largest rainforest in the world, which makes it a significantly important part of the global biodiversity and carbon cycle. The river levels are reported to be at the lowest levels in 120 years, affecting the lives of an estimated 30 million people living in the Amazon basin across several nations, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, a press statement explains.

Also read: Greenland lost 20% more ice than previously estimated: Study

According to the study by World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international group of scientists, human-induced global warming made the drought 30 times more likely, leading to extremely high temperatures and lower rainfall. For the analysis, the researchers focused on June to November last year.

Climate change has not only reduced rainfall in the region but also led to hotter conditions that evaporate moisture from plants and soil, which increases the severity of the drought, the statement explained. "We should be really worried about the health of the Amazon forest," Regina Rodrigues, a study co-author told Reuters.

The study also found that periodic warming in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, known as El Nino, also contributed to the reduction in rainfall but not higher temperatures.

"Waterways dried up in a matter of months. People were forced to make huge journeys, dragging boats over dried-up sections of river to access food, medicine and other essential goods," Simphiwe Stewart told Reuters. According to Reuters, researchers in Brazil have said that low water levels and high temperatures are the reason for the deaths of at least 178 of the endangered pink and grey Amazon river dolphins in 2023.

The study also found that highly vulnerable populations such as small-holder farmers, indigenous-, rural- and river communities across the region were disproportionately affected by the drought. This is because of their high dependency on agricultural food production, availability of freshwater, and import of goods through rivers, WWA reported.

These droughts can worsen forest fires, which then, along with climate change and deforestation, could push the Amazon more rapidly toward irreversible damage, the researchers warned.

Also read: Climate change could reduce average life expectancy by six months

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