Satellite image of the Congo rainforest, where the browning and dry area is overwhelming the green, healthy areas.

Image via NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Africa’s Congo rainforest is the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, and it is in serious trouble.

Over the past decade, the rainforest has experienced a long-term drought, causing an enormous decline in greenness. Scientists’ new analysis of NASA satellite data has determined the severity of the drought, which is indicated through the “greenness” of forest regions shown. The greener, the healthier, and in Congo’s rainforest there isn’t much green left at all.

A recent study led by Professor Liming Zhou of SUNY Albany shows the decline in vegetation and water content in the Congo rainforest from 2000 and 2012. Even more unfortunate, this greenness decrease has become significantly larger and prominent over time.

“Under the stress of an increased severity of water deficit in a warmer and drier climate in the 21st century, the gradual loss of photosynthetic capacity and water content over a long period might alter forest species composition and structure and thus affect biodiversity and carbon storage of tropical rainforests,” said Zhou. “For example, drier conditions may favor deciduous trees at the expense of evergreen trees.”

This process of natural selection can lead to a loss in biodiversity, and the case of this ongoing drought is assumed to be climate change.

Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains furthermore, “The recent climate anomalies as a result of climate change and warming of the Atlantic Ocean have created severe droughts in the tropics, causing major impacts on forests.”

Global warming, perhaps?

According to NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, in 2014, five new NASA Earth science missions are launching to expand our understanding of Earth’s changing climate and environment. With this new technology available, scientists will be able to find the root of this ongoing drought, and hopefully there will be some sort of explanation and solution.