A violent storm ripped through the Amazon forest in 2005 and single-handedly killed half a billion trees, a new study reveals.
The study is the first to produce an actual tree body count after an Amazon storm.
An estimated 441 million to 663 million trees were destroyed across the whole Amazon basin during the 2005 storm, a much greater number than previously suspected.
In some areas of the forest, up to 80 percent of the trees were killed by the storm. A severe drought was previously blamed for the region's tree loss in 2005.
"We can't attribute [the increased] mortality to just drought in certain parts of the basin - we have solid evidence that there was a strong storm that killed a lot of trees over a large part of the Amazon," said forest ecologist and study researcher Jeffrey Chambers of Tulane University in New Orleans, La.
From Jan. 16 to Jan. 18, 2005, a squall line - a long line of severe thunderstorms - 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) long and 124 miles (200 km) wide crossed the whole Amazon basin. The storm's strong winds, with speeds of up to 90 mph (145 kph), uprooted or snapped trees in half.
When trees die, they release their stored carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. In a vicious cycle, these storms could become more frequent in the future due to climate change.
To calculate the number of trees killed by the storm, the researchers used satellite images, field studies and computer models. They looked for patches of wind-toppled trees, which allowed them to distinguish from trees killed by the drought...