Tropical Rainforests are usually called the lungs of the Earth, mainly because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give out oxygen in large amounts. While there are several rainforests around the world, one rainforest that is entirely befitting of this title is the Amazon Rainforest. This is partly because it is the biggest in the world, with a size so big you can fit many other rainforests into it, representing more than half of the remaining rainforests on Earth.
It spans nine countries with nearly two-thirds of it in Brazil. The rainforest’s massive area also accounts for several millions of species, making it the planet’s most biodiverse, with almost 400 billion trees and over 2 million animal species living there.
The rainforest also has carbon reserves of up to 200 billion tons, and thanks to this, climate problems and issues of global warming can be limited. Unfortunately, the Amazon has suffered extreme exploitation over the years, mainly due to deforestation. In the past 40 years, over 20% of the Amazon has been cut down to promote cattle ranching in Brazil, home to a significant portion of the forest.
When deforestation occurs, the large amounts of carbon stored in the forest are released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a huge role in global warming. Even worse are the cases of burning that have been reported from the area.
While forest fires or wildfires are among the reasons for the fires in the Amazon, most of it has been attributed to human activities. In 2019, there were over 72,000 fires in Brazil’s part of the Amazon, including one that lasted more than three weeks, leading to calls for action to preserve the rainforest.
Despite the severe exploitation, coupled with the weak environmental regulations by the Brazil Government, the Amazon continues to be the biggest rainforest in the world. However, scientists wonder if it will stay like that if it continues to be harmed.
How Many Acres is the Amazon Rainforest?
The Amazon Rainforest measures up to approximately 1.35 billion acres in size. By comparison, the second biggest rainforest in the world, the Congo Rainforest, measures almost 500 million acres, while the third biggest, the New Guinea Rainforest, measures up to 200 million acres. This means you’ll be able to comfortably fit in both of them in the Amazon area at least two times.
How Many Square Miles (and KM) is the Amazon Rainforest?
In square kilometers, the Amazon rainforest measures up to 5.5 million square kilometers in area. This also translates to an area of 2,123,516 square miles. Just as you can fit two of the other big rainforests into the Amazon rainforest, some of the most popular countries worldwide would fit right in for even more than ten times.
France, for example, has an area of 551,695 square kilometers, which means France would fit in about ten times. The United Kingdom, which is relatively smaller, with 243,610 square kilometers, will fit right in more than 20 times.
Compared to bigger countries like Canada and China, with 9,984,670 square kilometers and 9,707,961 square kilometers, respectively, the Amazon rainforest will cover more than half of the country. Even in Brazil, where a significant portion is found, the Amazon forest will cover more than half.
If the Amazon rainforest were a country on its own, it would be listed as the seventh largest in the world, with countries like India, Argentina, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria all having smaller areas compared to it.
How Big is the Amazon Rainforest Compared to the US?
Even though the Amazon rainforest is bigger than most of the countries in the world, the United States is not one of them. The United States of America has an area of 9,372,610 square kilometers (2,316,022,369 acres or 3,618,783 square miles), and with this, it is the fourth largest country in the world, also accounting for 6.1% of the Earth’s surface. This means the US is much bigger than the Amazon, though the rainforest would still cover more than half of the United States.
In terms of population, the United States has over 330 million people living in the country. However, the Amazon is home to 47 million people, including two million indigenous people from more than 400 indigenous groups.
Regarding other parameters like the population of plants, birds, and other life forms, the Amazon easily edges out the United States. It is believed that the Amazon is home to 10% of known species on Earth, and new species are discovered almost on a daily basis.
Is the Amazon Rainforest Fully Explored?
Despite the availability of information on the Amazon Rainforest and how big it is, a large portion of the forest still has yet to be explored. One of the rainforest areas known as Vale do Javari is thought to be the most unexplored place in the world. The predominantly dense and unfriendly landscape is said to be home to some of the world’s most deadly creatures, including Jaguars, Anacondas, and Brazilian wandering spiders.
It has also been reported that there is heavy rainfall in this part of the Amazon, resulting in severe flooding, making it inhabitable and extremely dangerous to explore. Despite this, at least 14 indigenous uncontacted tribes are believed to be living in this area.
To further suggest that there could be more to the Amazon, archaeologists recently uncovered evidence to show that several hundreds of villages are situated away from the major river, therefore leading to suggestions that millions of people could be living in the thick of the forest.
The areas away from the Amazon River are still majorly unexplored because, in the past, it was believed that ancient communities preferred to stay close to the waterways.
However, based on a study in 2018, archaeologists from the University of Exeter found new evidence to show that this was not the case. The archaeologists found remains of fortified villages and mysterious earthworks called geoglyphs, which are artificial features created on the surface of the Earth by removing or clearing sand or stones to create a contrast between the figure and the ground. Villages are usually found nearby or inside the geoglyphs.
Studies show up to 1,300 geoglyphs across 400,000 square kilometers of Southern Amazonia, suggesting that there could be around 600 to 1000 enclosed villages still yet to be found.
How Much of the Amazon Rainforest Has Been Lost?
Unfortunately, the Amazon Rainforest has been subject to large-scale deforestation, which started as far back as the 1960s, mainly in Brazil. In 1964 under a military dictatorship, people were encouraged to move to the Amazon, with the promise of economic incentives for farmers and ranchers to clear land in the area.
For years, this continued to go on. During the 70s and 80s, the cases of deforestation in the Amazon significantly increased, with infrastructure projects and agricultural opportunities drawing more people to the rainforest.
By 1988, satellite imagery of the Amazon revealed that the rainforest had lost over 10% of its original cover. To limit the extent of forest depletion, the Brazilian government launched a program in 1989 to determine the areas that should be protected from exploitation. However, enforcement remained weak, and in 1995, the country hit a new high in deforestation, with more than eleven thousand square miles (7,040,000 acres or 28,490 square kilometers) getting cleared that year.
Things remained the same until significant efforts were made in 2003, with the appointment of a new Minister of Environment who helped improve laws and reduce deforestation. In the following years, deforestation seemed minimal until 2019, when President Jair Bolsonaro took office and deregulated land and pesticide use. This turned out to be a disastrous move that led to a surge in land burning in the Amazon, primarily to enable farming and grazing.
By August 2019, Brazil’s part of the Amazon was reported to have experienced more than sixty thousand fires. Bolsonaro’s decisions continued to threaten the Amazon, with environmental regulations even getting weaker. In 2022, reports again revealed that more than 1,500 square miles (960,000 acres or 3,885 square kilometers) were cleared in the year’s first six months.
By contrast, this portion of the Amazon is bigger than countries like Luxembourg, the Faroe Islands, Singapore, and Bahrain. It is also five times the size of New York (302.4 square miles/ 784 square kilometers/ 193,664 acres), more than two times the size of London (607 square miles/ 1572 square kilometers/ 388,450 acres), and 38 times the size of Paris (40.7 square miles/ 105.4 square kilometers/ 26,048 acres).
Over the past fifty years, about 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed, and scientists predict that if it reaches 20 to 25 percent deforestation, it will mark a point in which the tropical climate dries out. Human activities such as agriculture (farming and cattle ranching), construction, and burning are responsible for forest depletion.
While many people believe that a crackdown on deforestation could slow down economic growth in the area, and also Brazil in general, experts stand with the fact that enough has been done to the rainforest to sustain the country’s needs. Overexploitation would only damage the Amazon further.
How Big is the Congo Rainforest Compared to Amazon Rainforest?
Asides from being the obviously smaller rainforest in this comparison, the Congo Rainforest is also big enough to earn some recognition. While the Amazon Rainforest can be referred to as the Lungs of the Earth, the Congo Rainforest is often referred to as the Lungs of Africa.
It spans six countries, with the largest part of it found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The area also has more than 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species.
Deforestation represents a significant disturbance to this rainforest, and in only 2020, around 1.2 million acres (1,875 square miles or 4,856 square kilometers) of the forest were lost to illegal logging and agricultural use. However, the Congo rainforest continues to help in the fight against global warming, with the rainforest having 32 billion tons of carbon stored in its trees and plants.
Like the Amazon, scientists believe that if the Congo rainforest continues to be exploited, significant portions of the forest will be lost. Based on the current rate of disturbance in the country, it is believed that a quarter of the Congo rainforest will have been cut down by 2050.
|Units of Measurements
|Area of the Amazon Rainforest
|Square Miles (mi2)
|Square Kilometers (km2)
The Amazon Rainforest is literally the most critical ecosystem in the world, which explains the much-needed advocacy for its preservation and protection. One third of identified land animal and plant species are found in the Amazon, despite it just making up 4% of the Earth’s surface.
The Amazonian trees contribute significantly to the regional and global water and carbon cycles by releasing 20 billion tons of water into the sky daily.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/JarnoVerdonk
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