The devastating drought currently affecting the Amazon rainforest is part of a vicious cycle created by the combined affects of global warming and deforestation and could cause the collapse of the rainforest, according to scientists (1) from the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia and Greenpeace.

"Brazil is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate changes in the world because of its invaluable biodiversity. If the Amazon loses more than 40% of its forest cover, we will reach a turning point from where we cannot reverse the savannization process of the world's largest forest," said Carlos Nobre, from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and President of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP).

Seventeen per cent of the Amazon has been completely wiped out over the past 30 years, according to INPE, and even more has been damaged by destructive and illegal logging and other human activities. Life on Earth depends on ancient forests for its survival. They are the richest most diverse habitats, and help stabilize climate and regulate the weather.

"This drought and its effects are really shocking. Towns are lacking food, medicines and fuel because boats cannot get through," said Carlos Rittl, Greenpeace Brazil's climate campaigner. "If the landscape I've seen this week is a sign of things to come, we're in serious trouble. We risk losing the world's largest rainforest, the network of rivers and invaluable and varied life it sustains, much of which we haven't even discovered or researched." Amazonian deforestation and fires account for more than 75% of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions and place it amongst the top four contributors to global climate change.

"The Amazon is caught between two destructive forces and their combined effects threaten to flip its ecosystems from forest to savannah if measures are not taken to stop deforestation and combat climate change," said Rittl.