A study conducted by researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium) and published in PNAS has identified signs of critical slowing down in the recovery response of Amazon forests from drought. Severe drought conditions are a major factor contributing to this slowing trend. Critical slowing down is a phenomenon where systems show delayed recovery from minor disturbances as they approach a tipping point towards a degraded state.

Johanna Van Passel and colleagues analyzed satellite data on Amazon vegetation from 2001 to 2019 to quantify trends in vegetation responses to drought. The Amazon has experienced three extreme droughts over the past 20 years, and such droughts are expected to become more frequent due to climate change. The analysis revealed that the increasing frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts contribute to the slowing recovery. However, high-intensity droughts were identified as the primary factor slowing down the response across the Amazon.

Most of the Amazon is not currently experiencing critical slowing down, but areas with variable rainfall, especially in the southern region, are more susceptible to these trends. According to the researchers, the increase in drought events in the Amazon could expand the forest areas experiencing critical slowing down, potentially leading to local ecosystem collapse.

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