Amazon Rainforest: The Lungs of the World

Contributor: Andrea Castle. Lesson ID: 13167

Can something happening in another country really impact your life? Take a deeper look at the Amazon Rainforest to understand why it is called the lungs of the world and what that means to you.


Earth Science, World

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What if I told you there was one place on earth that:

  • is home to 10% of all known wildlife species in the world?
  • has over 40,000 different plant species?
  • supports 390 billion individual trees?
  • produces 20% of the world's oxygen?
  • grows 70% of the plants known to have anti-cancer properties?
  • maintains the water cycle?
  • keeps droughts from devastating the world?

Now, how would you feel if I told you that this place was at risk of being lost forever? Would you work to save it?

The Amazon Rainforest, also known as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. It covers an area in South America approximately 2,500,000 square miles across nine different countries. That is bigger than a billion football fields!

  • What is a rainforest actually?

Watch Rainforests 101 | National Geographic for an overview:

Rainforests are the richest and oldest ecosystems on earth. They are home to over half of all the planet's plants and animals. Many of those plants, which are used for food and medicine, cannot be found anywhere else. Rainforests also regulate global temperatures, water cycles, and the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere.

  • But what does all that really mean?

Some of these facts are easy to understand. Golden lion tamarins only live in the Amazon Rainforest. If the rainforest were not there, these monkeys would no longer exist.

golden lion tamatin with baby

The bark from cinchona trees is the key ingredient in quinine, which is the only drug that continues to be effective against malaria. More than 3 billion people are at risk of this disease. If cinchona trees disappeared, we would be unable to prevent the spread of malaria.

dry quinine

Harder to grasp is how a rainforest in South America influences the water cycle and climate both inside and out of its ecosystem. The Royal Meteorological Society can help us understand.

RMETS101 - Climate Change Water Cycles:

Finally, why is the Amazon Rainforest called the lungs of the world? What does that mean? Let's watch one more quick video to fully understand.

Amazon: The lungs of our planet by BBC:

The Amazon Rainforest is so large and home to so many trees that it produces more than 20% of the world's oxygen. Take five big, deep breaths right now. One of those was made possible by the Amazon Rainforest. That is what 20% means. Does that also mean that without the Amazon, you would need to skip every fifth breath you take? Not literally of course, but it helps us understand how important a number like 20% is.

  • How does the Amazon Rainforest produce this much oxygen?

You know that plants use photosynthesis to survive. This process absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen. Now, imagine 390 billion trees and even more plants acting like one big factory pumping out oxygen into the atmosphere. Oh, and they do it for free. Sounds like a pretty good deal, huh?

And don't forget about all that carbon they absorb from the atmosphere. This process cleans the air and actually cools its temperature.

  • What happens if those trees are destroyed?

The Amazon Rainforest has always been plagued by deforestation, which is just a fancy word that means cutting down all the trees and killing all the animals. Initially, local farmers were responsible for the deforestation as they made room to grow crops to feed their families. Over time, the industrialization of countries such as Brazil has led to mass deforestation, often for cattle-ranching.


Destroying the trees in the Amazon Rainforest not only prevents them from removing future carbon dioxide from the air, it also releases the carbon previously absorbed and stored within those trees. If those trees are destroyed by fire, the carbon returns to the atmosphere. For a broader understanding, read Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects by Alina Bradford at Live Science.

By now, you should have a better grasp as to why the Amazon Rainforest is so important. Time to head over to the Got It? section and review those facts while delving a little deeper.

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