In the Congo rainforest, a browning trend (brown) dominates smaller areas that show a greening trend (green) during April, May, and June each year from 2000 to 2012.
Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio
In the Congo rainforest, a browning trend (brown) dominates smaller areas that show a greening trend (green) during April, May, and June each year from 2000 to 2012. Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

Lushness of African rainforest fading due to prolonged drought

A new analysis by NASA indicates a lengthy drought may take a toll on the Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world. The comprehensive observational study, published in Nature, was initiated to survey the effect of chronic drought in the forest area. 

Satellite sensors acquired data between 2000 and 2012 to examine the long-term impact of water scarcity in the Congo region. Researchers discovered a gradually decreasing trend in Congo rainforest “greenness,” which is used to determine a forest’s health. A remote-sensing analysis revealed consistent patterns of reduced vegetation greenness, increased temperatures, and decreased water storage. The study showed the decline in greenness affected an increasing amount of forest area and intensified.

Weather irregularities as a result of climate change and the warming of the Atlantic Ocean have led to severe droughts in the tropics and consequently a negative impact on the forests. If the drought persists the composition, structure, biodiversity, and carbon storage of the Congo rainforest will be adversely affected.

This assessment will contribute to a better understanding of how prolonged water shortages impact African rainforests. Measuring the effects of extended drought is increasingly relevant as the world’s climate continues to warm.

Center for Tropical Research senior scientist Sassan Saatchi co-authored the study. The research was led by Liming Zhou of the University at Albany, State University of New York, in collaboration with additional authors from NASA and other laboratories and universities.