Drought is a problem in the Amazon Rainforests.

The Amazon suffered a record-making drought in 2005, which was thought to be the worst in the 108 years since tracking rains and droughts began. However, researchers are now saying that the drought the region struggled through in 2010 was likely even worse. The impact of two major droughts within a decade could mean that the rainforest so important to carbon capture could be hitting an irreversible downward spiral.

According to the University of Leeds, the 2010 dry season was more widespread than that of 2005. Usually, the forests can absorb around 1.5 billion tons of CO2 each year, however researchers estimate that the forests will not be able to absorb as much in 2010 and 2011. Further the trees killed from drought rot in the coming years will release over 5 billion tons of CO2 — nearly equivalent to the amount of carbon released by the US in 2009 from the burning of fossil fuels. And that doesn’t include the carbon emissions released during forest fires.

The scientists believe that if droughts of this magnitude continue at this frequency, the Amazon rainforest will no longer be able to act as a carbon emission sponge, which will amplify the impacts of what carbon is being released into the atmosphere today. They won’t know the full impact of the droughts until they can complete forest measurements and get more exact numbers on the trees that are left. However, they don’t seem to be optimistic.

Lead author Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds, said: “Having two events of this magnitude in such close succession is extremely unusual, but is unfortunately consistent with those climate models that project a grim future for Amazonia.”

The carbon isn’t the only immediate concern. As we noted last year, the economies of the communities dependent on flowing rivers are also hit hard by the droughts. Many people rely on the river systems as a mode of transportation and connection to other people, and as a food source. With the rivers drying up, their livelihoods are disappearing.

And of course there are also the species who call the rainforests home — their habitat is disappearing from drought in the same way that logging industries are cutting down wide swaths of trees.

From carbon to communities, the Amazon rainforests are of vital importance, but changes in global climate are proving to take their toll.