09 Aug 2023
 | 09 Aug 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Multi-fold increase in rainforests tipping risk beyond 1.5–2 °C warming

Chandrakant Singh, Ruud van der Ent, Ingo Fetzer, and Lan Wang-Erlandsson

Abstract. Tropical rainforests invest in their root systems to store moisture in their root zone from water-rich periods for use in water-scarce periods. An inadequate root-zone soil moisture storage predisposes or forces these forest ecosystems to transition to a savanna-like state, devoid of their native structure and functions. Yet changes in soil moisture storage and its influence on the rainforest ecosystems under future climate change remain uncertain. Using the (mass-balance-based) empirical understanding of root zone storage capacity, we assess the future state of the rainforests and the forest-to-savanna transition risk in South America and Africa under four different shared socioeconomic pathway scenarios. We find that under the end-of-the-21st-century climate, nearly one-third of the total forest area will be influenced by climate change. Furthermore, beyond 1.5–2 °C warming, ecosystem recovery reduces gradually, whereas the forest-savanna transition risk increases several folds. For Amazon, this risk can grow by about 1.5–6 times compared to its immediate lower warming scenario, whereas for Congo, this risk growth is not substantial (0.7–1.65 times). The insight from this study underscores the urgent need to limit global surface temperatures below the Paris Agreement.

Chandrakant Singh et al.

Status: open (until 05 Oct 2023)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1486', Anonymous Referee #1, 27 Sep 2023 reply

Chandrakant Singh et al.

Chandrakant Singh et al.


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Short summary
Tropical rainforests risk transforming into savanna-like landscapes under future climate change. By investigating the root zone storage dynamics and analyzing hydroclimate data from 33 Earth System Models (ESMs), we project the risk of rainforest tipping. While certain risks may be inevitable, the majority of them can still be avoided by adopting less severe climate scenarios. It is crucial to limit global surface temperatures below the Paris Agreement to preserve these valuable ecosystems.