Case Study: The Amazonian Road Decision

The proposed Pucallpa–Cruzeiro do Sul will connect the Amazon’s interior to urban centers and export markets in Peru and Brazil. However, critics are worried that the road will also create new opportunities for illegal logging and infringe on the territory of indigenous communities and wildlife.

Biology, Geography, Human Geography

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On the western edge of the Amazon River, there is a proposal to construct a road. This road would connect the remote town of Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil, with the larger city of Pucallpa, Peru. The construction of the road has become a subject of contentious debate. Proponents of the road claimed that it would provide an efficient way for rural farmers and tradesmen to get their goods to city markets. They claimed it would also allow loggers to more easily transport timber from the depths of the Amazon rainforest to sawmills. From the sawmills in Pucallpa, goods could be transported to Peru’s Pacific coast and shipped to international buyers. Critics of the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road, however, argue that it would cut right through traditional territories of the Ashéninka, an indigenous people of eastern Peru. Many leaders fear the road will increase access to previously undeveloped rainforest, threatening the ecosystem and the Ashéninka way of life. Large trees, such as mahogany, for example, will catch the eye of illegal loggers because of their high market value. The great mahogany trees also serve as protection to the Ashéninka from the outside world and are essential for the health of the Amazonian rainforest. The trees provide shelter, food, and nesting grounds that sustain the vast biodiversity within the ecosystem, an ecosystem the Ashéninka have come to depend on for their own food, shelter, and life sustenance. Geography The Amazon Basin is located in South America, covering an area of seven million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles). Nearly 70 percent of the basin falls within Brazil with remaining areas stretching into parts of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana. The Amazon’s massive drainage basin is made of dozens of smaller watersheds , including the Tamaya. Its watershed lies at the headwaters of the Purus and Juruá Rivers, near the border of Peru and Brazil. The Ashéninka people have lived in this region for centuries, surviving on game, fish, and cultivated crops, such as yucca roots, sweet potato, corn, coffee, and sugar cane. Background The rainforest surrounding the Amazon is the largest on the entire planet. In addition to 33 million human inhabitants, including 385 distinct Indigenous groups, it hosts the greatest diversity of plant and animal life in the world. More than two million species of insects are native to the region, including many tree-living species and hundreds of spiders and butterflies. Primates are abundant—including howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys—along with sloths, snakes, and iguanas. Brightly colored parrots, toucans, and parakeets are just some of the region’s native birds. Many of these species are unique to the Amazon rainforest, which means they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. At a global level, the Amazon rainforest helps to regulate climate and acts as a carbon sink for greenhouse gases . At a national level, the Amazon is considered a source of energy and income, based on production and commercialization of raw materials. Some of the most valued tree species in the world thrive in the rainforest. Mahogany is one of the most valuable resources from the Amazon forest. The tree’s rich, red grain and durability make it one of the most coveted building materials in the world. A single mahogany tree can fetch thousands of U.S. dollars on the international market. Even though logging is prohibited in much of the Amazon River, it is legal in some areas in large part because the sale of the wood is so lucrative. The high demand for mahogany has left many of Peru’s watersheds—such as the Tamaya—stripped of their most valuable trees. Without large trees, and their roots, the watershed risks heavy flooding and soil erosion. Conflict The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road is part of a larger development plan to link South America’s remote, isolated economies through new transportation, energy, and telecommunications projects. Tension exists between communities that favor developing the rural economies of the Amazon Basin and those who favor preserving its forested areas and diversity of life. The Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA) is a proposal for the construction of several highways throughout the continent, five of them within the western Amazon Basin. The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road is one such proposed highway. Supporters of the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road say international demand for Amazonian resources could help develop the rural economies that are scattered throughout the basin. In addition to providing a route of access for rural goods to enter the global market, the road will allow members of rural communities to access better health care, education, and welfare. This could lead to improved living conditions, healthier lifestyles, and longer life spans. Conservationists are concerned that infrastructure such as the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road will devastate an already weakened Amazonian ecosystem, as road access is highly correlated with  deforestation . In Brazil, for instance, 80 percent of deforestation occurs within 48.28 kilometers (30 miles) of a road. Critics argue that the construction of a road along the Brazil-Peru corridor will provide easier access for loggers to reach mahogany and other trees. Indigenous communities like the Ashéninka will also be affected. These communities have largely chosen to maintain a traditional way of life, and conservationists are concerned that the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road may expose them to disease and land theft. Identification of Stakeholders Indigenous Communities:  Members of the Ashéninka community are trying to protect the forest and their native lands. Yet, like other Indigenous communities in the area, they are in turmoil, largely divided between those favoring conservation and those seeking greater economic opportunities. While the Ashéninka want to preserve their culture and connections to the forest, they also need access to things like clothes, soap, and medicine. The road could establish trade routes that make these goods more accessible. However, isolated peoples could be exposed to disease and land theft. Wildlife:  The proposed Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road runs through Serra do Divisor National Park, Brazil, and other reserves that are home to threatened and rare species, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. For some of these species, such as the spider monkey and red howler monkey, the construction of the road could make their populations vulnerable to fragmentation and more visible to hunters. As mahogany and other canopy giants are removed, any wildlife that relies on the trees for shelter, nesting, or food will need to relocate. Amazonian Ecosystem:  In addition to the detrimental effects to the flora and fauna in the area, the construction of the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road could accelerate erosion, reduce water quality, and increase deforestation for agriculture and timber extraction. Tropical forest accounts for 40 percent of the global terrestrial carbon sink. A reduced number of trees could exacerbate global warming. Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. Logging Companies:  If a road is constructed, loggers will have easier access to mahogany and other trees, allowing them to generate more income and provide a higher standard of living for their families and communities. A higher standard of living might include expanded educational opportunities, improved healthcare facilities, and the chance to participate in political debate. Residents of Rural Communities:  The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road would allow local farmers and business people to transfer goods from the Amazonian interior to Peru’s Pacific coast. Right now, merchants who want to travel between Cruzeiro do Sul and Pucallpa must do so by plane. A reliable road would improve basic infrastructure, transportation, and communication for greater commercial and social integration between Peru and Brazil, which meets part of the larger objective of the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America. International Consumers:  The global demand for mahogany makes it a multimillion dollar business. Mahogany is used to create bedroom sets, cabinets, flooring, and patio decks throughout the world, mostly in the United States and Europe. Conflict Mitigation Groups are seeking to mitigate conflict in the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road conflict through dialogue and alternate infrastructure plans. Environmental conservation groups have suggested that the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road be removed from the list of approved projects until the community engages in greater communication surrounding two aspects of the project. First, conservationists are seeking more information on the environmental impact of the construction. This discussion involves local environmental groups, government representatives, and businesses. Second, conservationists are seeking full consent to the project from indigenous communities. Some critics of the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road argue that roads are not the only option for the Pucallpa business community to extend its commerce. Traditional river systems are already in place. These critics think the fluvial network should be explored as a viable alternative to road construction. The Upper Amazon Conservancy is working with indigenous peoples to help protect their native territories. One initiative involves organizing community “vigilance committees” that consist of members of indigenous peoples who help park services by patrolling the edges of national parks and keeping illegal loggers out.

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Internet Geography

Sustainable Management of the Amazon Rainforest

Tropical rainforest under canopy

The Amazon rainforest is located in the north of South America, spanning an area of around 8 million km2 including parts of Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador Bolivia, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana.

In some areas of the Amazon rainforest, sustainable management strategies are in place to ensure people today can get the resources they need in a way that ensures future generations can also benefit from the ecosystem .

Sustainable management strategies are affected by political and economic factors .

Governance 

Governance relates to control of rainforests and who has a say in how rainforests are used. In some areas, rainforests are protected by national and international laws.

In Brazil, the largest protected area of rainforest is the Central Amazon Conservation Complex (CACC) . The CACC covers 60000 km2 as is classified as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, which means it is protected by international treaties. Limits are placed on hunting , logging and fishing and access is limited.

Central Amazon Conservation Complex (CACC)

Central Amazon Conservation Complex (CACC)

In other areas local communities, with the help of NGOs, are involved in rainforest governance. In Columbia, an organisation known as Natütama is working with the local community in Puerto Nariño to protect river species such as the Amazon River dolphin. Local people are employed to teach members of the community on how to protect habitats and endangered river species. Local fishermen collect information about the number and distribution of species and report illegal hunting.

Commodity Value

Commodity value means assigning a value to different good and services in a rainforest. Sustainable management ensures rainforests are worth. more than the value of the timber and other resources that can be extracted, such as gold. An example of this is sustainable foresty, which balances the removal of trees to sell with the conservation of the forest.

Selective logging involves only removing a small number of trees, allowing the forest to regenerate naturally. This saves money in the long run as logging companies do not need to replace felled trees.

Sustainable logging companies such as Precious Woods Amazon place limits on the number of trees being cut down so the rainforest can recover. They also use a range of species so that none are over-exploited.

International agreements try to reduce illegal logging and ensure timber comes from sustainable sources. The Forestry Stewardship Council allows the use of its logo by companies that operate in a sustainable way so consumers know they are buying sustainable timber.

FSC certified wood

FSC certified wood

Ecotourism is a type of tourism that minimises damage to the environment and benefits local people.

An example of an ecotourism project is the Yachana Lodge in Equador. It is located in a remote area of the Amazon Rainforest where local people rely on subsistence farming.

Yachana Lodge

Yachana Lodge

The project employs local people. This provides a reliable source of income and a better quality of life. The project encourages local people to use the rainforest in a sustainable way so tourists continue to visit.

Volunteers work with local Amazon youth who study at the Yachana Technical High School where learning is focused on five main areas:

  • Rainforest conservation
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Renewable energy
  • Animal husbandry
  • Micro-enterprise development .

Tourists are only allowed to visit in small groups, minimising their impact on the environment. Tourists take part in activities that help raise awareness of conservation issues.

Entrance fees are paid by the tourists which are invested in conservation and education projects.

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Tropical rainforest case study

Case study of a tropical rainforest setting to illustrate and analyse key themes in water and carbon cycles and their relationship to environmental change and human activity.

Amazon Forest The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth. It sits within the Amazon River basin, covers some 40% of the South American continent and as you can see on the map below includes parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. The actual word “Amazon” comes from river. Amazing Amazon facts; • It is home to 1000 species of bird and 60,000 species of plants • 10 million species of insects live in the Amazon • It is home to 20 million people, who use the wood, cut down trees for farms and for cattle. • It covers 2.1 million square miles of land • The Amazon is home to almost 20% of species on Earth • The UK and Ireland would fit into the Amazon 17 times! The Amazon caught the public’s attention in the 1980s when a series of shocking news reports said that an area of rainforest the size of Belgium was being cut down and subsequently burnt every year. This deforestation has continued to the present day according to the Sao Paulo Space Research Centre. Current statistics suggest that we have lost 20% of Amazon rainforest. Their satellite data is also showing increased deforestation in parts of the Amazon.

Map of the Amazon

Water The water cycle is very active within the Amazon rainforest and it interlinks the lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.  The basin is drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries.  The average discharge of water into the Atlantic Ocean by the Amazon is approximately 175,000 m 3 per second, or between 1/5th and 1/6th of the total discharge into the oceans of all of the world's rivers. 3 The Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, is the second largest river in the world in terms of water flow, and is 100 meters deep and 14 kilometers wide near its mouth at Manaus, Brazil. Rainfall across the Amazon is very high.  Average rainfall across the whole Amazon basin is approximately 2300 mm annually. In some areas of the northwest portion of the Amazon basin, yearly rainfall can exceed 6000 mm. 3 Only around 1/3 of the rain that falls in the Amazon basin is discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. It is thought that; 1. Up to half of the rainfall in some areas may never reach the ground, being intercepted by the forest and re-evaporated into the atmosphere. 2. Additional evaporation occurs from ground and river surfaces, or is released into the atmosphere by transpiration from plant leaves (in which plants release water from their leaves during photosynthesis) 3. This moisture contributes to the formation of rain clouds, which release the water back onto the rainforest. In the Amazon, 50-80 percent of moisture remains in the ecosystem’s water cycle. 4

This means that much of the rainfall re-enters the water cycling system of the Amazon, and a given molecule of water may be "re-cycled" many times between the time that it leaves the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and is carried by the prevailing westerly winds into the Amazon basin, to the time that it is carried back to the ocean by the Amazon River. 4 It is thought that the water cycle of the Amazon has global effects.  The moisture created by rainforests travels around the world. Moisture created in the Amazon ends up falling as rain as far away as Texas, and forests in Southeast Asia influence rain patterns in south eastern Europe and China. 4 When forests are cut down, less moisture goes into the atmosphere and rainfall declines, sometimes leading to drought. These have been made worse by deforestation. 4 Change to the water and carbon cycles in the Amazon The main change to the Amazon rainforest is deforestation.  Deforestation in the Amazon is generally the result of land clearances for; 1. Agriculture (to grow crops like Soya or Palm oil) or for pasture land for cattle grazing 2. Logging – This involves cutting down trees for sale as timber or pulp.  The timber is used to build homes, furniture, etc. and the pulp is used to make paper and paper products.  Logging can be either selective or clear cutting. Selective logging is selective because loggers choose only wood that is highly valued, such as mahogany. Clear-cutting is not selective.  Loggers are interested in all types of wood and therefore cut all of the trees down, thus clearing the forest, hence the name- clear-cutting. 3. Road building – trees are also clear for roads.  Roads are an essential way for the Brazilian government to allow development of the Amazon rainforest.  However, unless they are paved many of the roads are unusable during the wettest periods of the year.  The Trans Amazonian Highway has already opened up large parts of the forest and now a new road is going to be paved, the BR163 is a road that runs 1700km from Cuiaba to Santarem. The government planned to tarmac it making it a superhighway. This would make the untouched forest along the route more accessible and under threat from development. 4. Mineral extraction – forests are also cleared to make way for huge mines. The Brazilian part of the Amazon has mines that extract iron, manganese, nickel, tin, bauxite, beryllium, copper, lead, tungsten, zinc and gold! 5. Energy developmen t – This has focussed mainly on using Hydro Electric Power, and there are 150 new dams planned for the Amazon alone.  The dams create electricity as water is passed through huge pipes within them, where it turns a turbine which helps to generate the electricity.  The power in the Amazon is often used for mining.  Dams displace many people and the reservoirs they create flood large area of land, which would previously have been forest.  They also alter the hydrological cycle and trap huge quantities of sediment behind them. The huge Belo Monte dam started operating in April 2016 and will generate over 11,000 Mw of power.  A new scheme the 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam has been held up because of the concerns over the impacts on the local Munduruku people. 6. Settlement & population growth – populations are growing within the Amazon forest and along with them settlements.  Many people are migrating to the forest looking for work associated with the natural wealth of this environment. Settlements like Parauapebas, an iron ore mining town, have grown rapidly, destroying forest and replacing it with a swath of shanty towns. The population has grown from 154,000 in 2010 to 220,000 in 2012. The Brazilian Amazon’s population grew by a massive 23% between 2000 and 2010, 11% above the national average.

The WWF estimates that 27 per cent, more than a quarter, of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation continues. They also state that Forest losses in the Amazon biome averaged 1.4 million hectares per year between 2001 and 2012, resulting in a total loss of 17.7 million hectares, mostly in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.  12

The impacts of deforestation Atmospheric impacts Deforestation causes important changes in the energy and water balance of the Amazon. Pasturelands and croplands (e.g. soya beans and corn) have a higher albedo and decreased water demand, evapotranspiration and canopy interception compared with the forests they replace. 9 Lathuillière et al. 10 found that forests in the state of Mato Grosso; • Contributed about 50 km 3 per year of evapotranspiration to the atmosphere in the year 2000. • Deforestation reduced that forest flux rate by approximately 1 km 3 per year throughout the decade. • As a result, by 2009, forests were contributing about 40 km 3 per year of evapotranspiration in Mato Grosso.

Differences such as these can affect atmospheric circulation and rainfall in proportion to the scale of deforestation The agriculture that replaces forest cover also decreases precipitation. In Rondônia, Brazil, one of the most heavily deforested areas of Brazil, daily rainfall data suggest that deforestation since the 1970s has caused an 18-day delay in the onset of the rainy season. 11 SSE Amazon also has many wild fires, which are closely associated with deforestation, forest fragmentation and drought intensity. According to Coe et al (2015) “ the increased atmospheric aerosol loads produced by fires have been shown to decrease droplet size, increase cloud height and cloud lifetime and inhibit rainfall, particularly in the dry season in the SSE Amazon. Thus, fires and drought may create a positive feedback in the SSE Amazon such that drought is more severe with continued deforestation and climate change .” 9

Amazon Wild fires

The impacts of climate change on the Amazon According to the WWF: • Some Amazon species capable of moving fast enough will attempt to find a more suitable environment. Many other species will either be unable to move or will have nowhere to go. • Higher temperatures will impact temperature-dependent species like fish, causing their distribution to change. • Reduced rainfall and increased temperatures may also reduce suitable habitat during dry, warm months and potentially lead to an increase in invasive, exotic species, which then can out-compete native species. • Less rainfall during the dry months could seriously affect many Amazon rivers and other freshwater systems. • The impact of reduced rainfall is a change in nutrient input into streams and rivers, which can greatly affect aquatic organisms. • A more variable climate and more extreme events will also likely mean that Amazon fish populations will more often experience hot temperatures and potentially lethal environmental conditions. • Flooding associated with sea-level rise will have substantial impacts on lowland areas such as the Amazon River delta. The rate of sea-level rise over the last 100 years has been 1.0-2.5 mm per year, and this rate could rise to 5 mm per year. • Sea-level rise, increased temperature, changes in rainfall and runoff will likely cause major changes in species habitats such as mangrove ecosystems. 15 Impacts of deforestation on soils Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day, and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperature swings that can be harmful to plants and animals. 8 Without protection from sun-blocking tree cover, moist tropical soils quickly dry out. In terms of Carbon, Tropical soils contain a lot of carbon.  The top meter holds 66.9 PgC with around 52% of this carbon pool held in the top 0.3 m of the soil, the layer which is most prone to changes upon land use conversion and deforestation. 14 Deforestation releases much of this carbon through clearance and burning.  For the carbon that remains in the soil, when it rains soil erosion will wash much of the carbon away into rivers after initial deforestation and some will be lost to the atmosphere via decomposition too. 

Impacts of deforestation on Rivers Trees also help continue the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. When trees are removed this cycle is severely disrupted and areas can suffer more droughts. There are many consequences of deforestation and climate change for the water cycle in forests; 1. There is increased soil erosion and weathering of rainforest soils as water acts immediately upon them rather than being intercepted. 2. Flash floods are more likely to happen as there is less interception and absorption by the forest cover. 3. Conversely, the interruption of normal water cycling has resulted in more droughts in the forest, increasing the risk of wild fires 4. More soil and silt is being washed into rivers, resulting in changes to waterways and transport 5. Disrupt water supplies to many people in Brazil

References 1 - Malhi, Y. et al. The regional variation of aboveground live biomass in old-growth Amazonian forests. Glob. Chang. Biol. 12, 1107–1138 (2006). 2 - Fernando D.B. Espírito-Santo  et al.  Size and frequency of natural forest disturbances and the Amazon forest carbon balance. Nature Communications volume 5, Article number: 3434 (2014) Accessed 3rd of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms4434#ref4 3 - Project Amazonas. Accessed 3rd of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.projectamazonas.org/amazon-facts  4 - Rhett Butler, 2012. IMPACT OF DEFORESTATION: LOCAL AND NATIONAL CONSEQUENCES.  Accessed 3rd of January 2019 retrieved from https://rainforests.mongabay.com/0902.htm 5 – Mark Kinver. Amazon: 1% of tree species store 50% of region's carbon. 2015. BBC. Accessed 3rd of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-32497537 6 -     Sophie Fauset et al. Hyperdominance in Amazonian forest carbon cycling. Nature Communications volume 6, Article number: 6857 (2015). Accessed 3rd of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7857 7- Brienen, R.J.W et al. (2015) Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink, Nature, h ttps://www.nature.com/articles/nature14283 8 – National Geographic – Deforestation - Learn about the man-made and natural causes of deforestation–and how it's impacting our planet. Accessed 20th of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/

9 -  Michael T. Coe, Toby R. Marthews, Marcos Heil Costa, David R. Galbraith, Nora L. Greenglass, Hewlley M. A. Imbuzeiro, Naomi M. Levine, Yadvinder Malhi, Paul R. Moorcroft, Michel Nobre Muza, Thomas L. Powell, Scott R. Saleska, Luis A. Solorzano, and Jingfeng Wang. (2015) Deforestation and climate feedbacks threaten the ecological integrity of south–southeastern Amazonia. 368, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Accessed 20th of January 2019 retrieved from http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1619/20120155

10 - Lathuillière MJ, Mark S, Johnson MS & Donner SD. (2012). Water use by terrestrial ecosystems: temporal variability in rainforest and agricultural contributions to evapotranspiration in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Environmental research Letters Volume 7 Number 2. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/2/024024/meta

11- Nathalie Butt, Paula Afonso de Oliveira & Marcos Heil Costa (2011). Evidence that deforestation affects the onset of the rainy season in Rondonia, Brazil JGR Atmospheres, Volume 116, Issue D11. https://doi.org/10.1029/2010JD015174

12 – WWF, Amazon Deforestation. Accessed 20th of January 2019 retrieved from http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/forests/deforestation_fronts/deforestation_in_the_amazon/

13 - Berenguer, E., Ferreira, J., Gardner, T. A., Aragão, L. E. O. C., De Camargo, P. B., Cerri, C. E., Durigan, M., Oliveira, R. C. D., Vieira, I. C. G. and Barlow, J. (2014), A large-scale field assessment of carbon stocks in human-modified tropical forests. Global Change Biology, 20: 3713–3726. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.12627

14 - N.HBatjes, J.ADijkshoorn, (1999). Carbon and nitrogen stocks in the soils of the Amazon Region. Geoderma, Volume 89, Issues 3–4, Pages 273-286. Accessed 20th of January 2019 retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001670619800086X

15 – WWF, Impacts of climate change in the Amazon. Accessed 20th of January 2019 retrieved from http://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/amazon_threats/climate_change_amazon/amazon_climate_change_impacts/

Written by Rob Gamesby

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  • Published: 01 September 2021

How deregulation, drought and increasing fire impact Amazonian biodiversity

  • Xiao Feng   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4638-3927 1   na1 ,
  • Cory Merow 2   na1 ,
  • Zhihua Liu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0086-5659 3   na1 ,
  • Daniel S. Park   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2783-530X 4 , 5   na1 ,
  • Patrick R. Roehrdanz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4047-5011 6   na1 ,
  • Brian Maitner   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2118-9880 2   na1 ,
  • Erica A. Newman 7 , 8   na1 ,
  • Brad L. Boyle 7 , 9 ,
  • Aaron Lien 8 , 10 ,
  • Joseph R. Burger 7 , 8 , 11 ,
  • Mathias M. Pires 12 ,
  • Paulo M. Brando   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8952-7025 13 , 14 , 15 ,
  • Mark B. Bush   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6894-8613 16 ,
  • Crystal N. H. McMichael   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1064-1499 17 ,
  • Danilo M. Neves 18 ,
  • Efthymios I. Nikolopoulos 19 ,
  • Scott R. Saleska 7 ,
  • Lee Hannah 6 ,
  • David D. Breshears   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6601-0058 10 ,
  • Tom P. Evans   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4591-1011 20 ,
  • José R. Soto 10 ,
  • Kacey C. Ernst 21 &
  • Brian J. Enquist 7 , 22   na1  

Nature volume  597 ,  pages 516–521 ( 2021 ) Cite this article

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  • Biodiversity
  • Biogeography

Biodiversity contributes to the ecological and climatic stability of the Amazon Basin 1 , 2 , but is increasingly threatened by deforestation and fire 3 , 4 . Here we quantify these impacts over the past two decades using remote-sensing estimates of fire and deforestation and comprehensive range estimates of 11,514 plant species and 3,079 vertebrate species in the Amazon. Deforestation has led to large amounts of habitat loss, and fires further exacerbate this already substantial impact on Amazonian biodiversity. Since 2001, 103,079–189,755 km 2 of Amazon rainforest has been impacted by fires, potentially impacting the ranges of 77.3–85.2% of species that are listed as threatened in this region 5 . The impacts of fire on the ranges of species in Amazonia could be as high as 64%, and greater impacts are typically associated with species that have restricted ranges. We find close associations between forest policy, fire-impacted forest area and their potential impacts on biodiversity. In Brazil, forest policies that were initiated in the mid-2000s corresponded to reduced rates of burning. However, relaxed enforcement of these policies in 2019 has seemingly begun to reverse this trend: approximately 4,253–10,343 km 2 of forest has been impacted by fire, leading to some of the most severe potential impacts on biodiversity since 2009. These results highlight the critical role of policy enforcement in the preservation of biodiversity in the Amazon.

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case study on amazon rainforest

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case study on amazon rainforest

Shifting agriculture is the dominant driver of forest disturbance in threatened forest species’ ranges

case study on amazon rainforest

Implications of the 2019–2020 megafires for the biogeography and conservation of Australian vegetation

case study on amazon rainforest

Impact of 2019–2020 mega-fires on Australian fauna habitat

Data availability.

The plant occurrences from the BIEN database are accessible using the RBIEN package ( https://github.com/bmaitner/RBIEN ). The climatic data are accessible from http://worldclim.org and the soil data are available from http://soilgrids.org . MODIS active fire and burned area products are available at http://modis-fire.umd.edu . The MODIS Vegetation Continuous Fields data are publicly available from https://lpdaac.usgs.gov/products/mod44bv006/ . The annual forest loss layers are available from http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest . The plant range maps are accessible at https://github.com/shandongfx/paper_Amazon_biodiversity_2021 . The vertebrate range maps are available from https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/spatial-data-download . The SPEI data are available from SPEI Global Drought Monitor ( https://spei.csic.es/map ).

Code availability

The code to process the remote-sensing data is available at https://github.com/shandongfx/paper_Amazon_biodiversity_2021 .

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the herbaria that contributed data to this work: HA, FCO, MFU, UNEX, VDB, ASDM, BPI, BRI, CLF, L, LPB, AD, TAES, FEN, FHO, A, ANSM, BCMEX, RB, TRH, AAH, ACOR, AJOU, UI, AK, ALCB, AKPM, EA, AAU, ALU, AMES, AMNH, AMO, ANA, GH, ARAN, ARM, AS, CICY, ASU, BAI, AUT, B, BA, BAA, BAB, BACP, BAF, BAL, COCA, BARC, BBS, BC, BCN, BCRU, BEREA, BG, BH, BIO, BISH, SEV, BLA, BM, MJG, BOL, CVRD, BOLV, BONN, BOUM, BR, BREM, BRLU, BSB, BUT, C, CAMU, CAN, CANB, CAS, CAY, CBG, CBM, CEN, CEPEC, CESJ, CHR, ENCB, CHRB, CIIDIR, CIMI, CLEMS, COA, COAH, COFC, CP, COL, COLO, CONC, CORD, CPAP, CPUN, CR, CRAI, FURB, CU, CRP, CS, CSU, CTES, CTESN, CUZ, DAO, HB, DAV, DLF, DNA, DS, DUKE, DUSS, E, HUA, EAC, ECU, EIF, EIU, GI, GLM, GMNHJ, K, GOET, GUA, EKY, EMMA, HUAZ, ERA, ESA, F, FAA, FAU, UVIC, FI, GZU, H, FLAS, FLOR, HCIB, FR, FTG, FUEL, G, GB, GDA, HPL, GENT, GEO, HUAA, HUJ, CGE, HAL, HAM, IAC, HAMAB, HAS, HAST, IB, HASU, HBG, IBUG, HBR, IEB, HGI, HIP, IBGE, ICEL, ICN, ILL, SF, NWOSU, HO, HRCB, HRP, HSS, HU, HUAL, HUEFS, HUEM, HUSA, HUT, IAA, HYO, IAN, ILLS, IPRN, FCQ, ABH, BAFC, BBB, INPA, IPA, BO, NAS, INB, INEGI, INM, MW, EAN, IZTA, ISKW, ISC, GAT, IBSC, UCSB, ISU, IZAC, JBAG, JE, SD, JUA, JYV, KIEL, ECON, TOYA, MPN, USF, TALL, RELC, CATA, AQP, KMN, KMNH, KOR, KPM, KSTC, LAGU, UESC, GRA, IBK, KTU, KU, PSU, KYO, LA, LOMA, SUU, UNITEC, NAC, IEA, LAE, LAF, GMDRC, LCR, LD, LE, LEB, LI, LIL, LINN, AV, HUCP, MBML, FAUC, CNH, MACF, CATIE, LTB, LISI, LISU, MEXU, LL, LOJA, LP, LPAG, MGC, LPD, LPS, IRVC, MICH, JOTR, LSU, LBG, WOLL, LTR, MNHN, CDBI, LYJB, LISC, MOL, DBG, AWH, NH, HSC, LMS, MELU, NZFRI, M, MA, UU, UBT, CSUSB, MAF, MAK, MB, KUN, MARY, MASS, MBK, MBM, UCSC, UCS, JBGP, OBI, BESA, LSUM, FULD, MCNS, ICESI, MEL, MEN, TUB, MERL, CGMS, FSU, MG, HIB, TRT, BABY, ETH, YAMA, SCFS, SACT, ER, JCT, JROH, SBBG, SAV, PDD, MIN, SJSU, MISS, PAMP, MNHM, SDSU, BOTU, MPU, MSB, MSC, CANU, SFV, RSA, CNS, JEPS, BKF, MSUN, CIB, VIT, MU, MUB, MVFA, SLPM, MVFQ, PGM, MVJB, MVM, MY, PASA, N, HGM, TAM, BOON, MHA, MARS, COI, CMM, NA, NCSC, ND, NU, NE, NHM, NHMC, NHT, UFMA, NLH, UFRJ, UFRN, UFS, ULS, UNL, US, NMNL, USP, NMR, NMSU, XAL, NSW, ZMT, BRIT, MO, NCU, NY, TEX, U, UNCC, NUM, O, OCLA, CHSC, LINC, CHAS, ODU, OKL, OKLA, CDA, OS, OSA, OSC, OSH, OULU, OXF, P, PACA, PAR, UPS, PE, PEL, SGO, PEUFR, PH, PKDC, SI, PMA, POM, PORT, PR, PRC, TRA, PRE, PY, QMEX, QCA, TROM, QCNE, QRS, UH, R, REG, RFA, RIOC, RM, RNG, RYU, S, SALA, SANT, SAPS, SASK, SBT, SEL, SING, SIU, SJRP, SMDB, SNM, SOM, SP, SRFA, SPF, STL, STU, SUVA, SVG, SZU, TAI, TAIF, TAMU, TAN, TEF, TENN, TEPB, TI, TKPM, TNS, TO, TU, TULS, UADY, UAM, UAS, UB, UC, UCR, UEC, UFG, UFMT, UFP, UGDA, UJAT, ULM, UME, UMO, UNA, UNM, UNR, UNSL, UPCB, UPNA, USAS, USJ, USM, USNC, USZ, UT, UTC, UTEP, UV, VAL, VEN, VMSL, VT, W, WAG, WII, WELT, WIS, WMNH, WS, WTU, WU, Z, ZSS, ZT, CUVC, AAS, AFS, BHCB, CHAM, FM, PERTH and SAN. X.F., D.S.P., E.A.N., A.L. and J.R.B. were supported by the University of Arizona Bridging Biodiversity and Conservation Science program. Z.L. was supported by NSFC (41922006) and K. C. Wong Education Foundation. The BIEN working group was supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a centre funded by NSF EF-0553768 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California. Additional support for the BIEN working group was provided by iPlant/Cyverse via NSF DBI-0735191. B.J.E., B.M. and C.M. were supported by NSF ABI-1565118. B.J.E. and C.M. were supported by NSF ABI-1565118 and NSF HDR-1934790. B.J.E., L.H. and P.R.R. were supported by the Global Environment Facility SPARC project grant (GEF-5810). D.D.B. was supported in part by NSF DEB-1824796 and NSF DEB-1550686. S.R.S. was supported by NSF DEB-1754803. X.F. and A.L. were partly supported by NSF DEB-1824796. B.J.E. and D.M.N. were supported by NSF DEB-1556651. M.M.P. is supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), grant 2019/25478-7. D.M.N. was supported by Instituto Serrapilheira/Brazil (Serra-1912-32082). E.I.N. was supported by NSF HDR-1934712. We thank L. López-Hoffman and L. Baldwin for constructive comments.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Xiao Feng, Cory Merow, Zhihua Liu, Daniel S. Park, Patrick R. Roehrdanz, Brian Maitner, Erica A. Newman, Brian J. Enquist

Authors and Affiliations

Department of Geography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

Eversource Energy Center and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA

Cory Merow & Brian Maitner

CAS Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang, China

Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Daniel S. Park

Purdue Center for Plant Biology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

The Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA

Patrick R. Roehrdanz & Lee Hannah

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Erica A. Newman, Brad L. Boyle, Joseph R. Burger, Scott R. Saleska & Brian J. Enquist

Arizona Institutes for Resilience, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Erica A. Newman, Aaron Lien & Joseph R. Burger

Hardner & Gullison Associates, Amherst, NH, USA

Brad L. Boyle

School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Aaron Lien, David D. Breshears & José R. Soto

Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA

Joseph R. Burger

Departamento de Biologia Animal, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil

Mathias M. Pires

Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA

Paulo M. Brando

Woodwell Climate Research Center, Falmouth, MA, USA

Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), Brasilia, Brazil

Insitute for Global Ecology, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL, USA

Mark B. Bush

Department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Crystal N. H. McMichael

Institute of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Danilo M. Neves

Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL, USA

Efthymios I. Nikolopoulos

School of Geography, Development and Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Tom P. Evans

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Kacey C. Ernst

The Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Brian J. Enquist

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Contributions

X.F. conceived the idea, which was refined by discussion with D.S.P., C.M., B.M., P.R.R., E.A.N., B.L.B., A.L., J.R.B., D.D.B., J.R.S., K.C.E. and B.J.E.; X.F. and Z.L. processed the remote-sensing data; C.M., X.F., B.M., B.L.B., D.S.P. and B.J.E. conducted the analyses of plant data; P.R.R., C.M., B.M., X.F. and D.S.P. conducted the analyses of vertebrate data; X.F., C.M., S.R.S. and E.A.N. processed the drought data; D.S.P., X.F., C.M., P.R.R. and B.M. designed the illustrations with help from B.J.E., D.D.B., K.C.E. and E.A.N.; E.A.N., X.F., and D.S.P. conducted the statistical analyses with help from B.J.E.; X.F., B.J.E., B.M., A.L., J.R.B., D.S.P., C.M., E.A.N., Z.L. and P.R.R. wrote the original draft; all authors contributed to interpreting the results and the editing of manuscript drafts. B.J.E., C.M., K.C.E. and D.D.B. led to the acquisition of the financial support for the project. X.F., C.M., B.M., D.S.P., P.R.R., Z.L., E.A.N. and B.J.E. contributed equally to data, analyses and writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xiao Feng .

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended data fig. 1 fire-impacted forest and forest loss in the amazon basin..

a – h , Visualization of fire-impacted forest ( a , b ), forest loss without fire ( c , d ), fire-impacted forest with forest loss ( e , f ), and fire-impacted forest without forest loss ( g , h ) in the Amazon Basin based on MODIS burned area (left panels) and active fire (right panels). Data in a – d are resampled from the 500m (MODIS burned area) or 1 km (MODIS active fire) to 10 km resolution using mean function and thresholded at 0.01 to illustrate the temporal dynamics. Black represents non-forested areas masked out from this study. The cumulative fire-impacted forest is classified into two categories: fire-impacted forest with forest loss ( e , f ) and fire-impacted forest without forest loss ( g , h ). Data in e – h are resampled to 10 km using mean function to illustrate the cumulative percentages of impacts.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Scatter plot of species’ range impacted by fire.

Scatter plot of species’ range size in Amazon forest (x-axis) and percentage of total range impacted by fire (red) and forest loss without fire (black) up to 2019 for plants (left panel) and vertebrates (right panel).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Density plot of species’ cumulative range impacted by fire.

Density plot of species’ cumulative range impacted by fire. The different colours represent years 2001-2019. The x-axis is log10 transformed.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Summary of forest impacts in the Amazon Basin.

Areas of forest impact in the Amazon Basin estimated from MODIS burned area (top) and MODIS active fire (bottom).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Cumulative impacts on biodiversity in the Amazon Basin.

Cumulative effects of forest loss without fire on biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest. In the left panels, the black and grey shading represent the cumulative forest loss without fire based on MODIS burned area and MODIS active fire, respectively. Coloured areas represent the lower and upper bounds of cumulative numbers of a , plant and c , vertebrate species’ ranges impacted. Right panels depict the relationships between the cumulative forest loss without fire (based on MODIS burned area) and cumulative number of b , plant and d , vertebrate species. Coloured lines represent predicted values of an ordinary least squares linear regression and grey bands define the two-sided 95% confidence interval (two-sided, p values = 0.00). The silhouette of the tree is from http://phylopic.org/ ; silhouette of the monkey is courtesy of Mathias M. Pires.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Fire-impacted forest in Brazil.

Newly fire-impacted forest in Brazil (based on MODIS active fire). a shows the area of fire-impacted forest not explained by drought conditions. Different colours represent years from different policy regimes: pre-regulations in light red (mean value in dark red), regulation in grey (mean value in black dashed line), and 2019 in blue. The y-axis represents the difference between actual area and area predicted by drought conditions calibrated by data from regulation years ( Methods ). A positive value on the y-axis represents more area than expected, using the regulation years as a baseline. b shows a scatter plot of newly fire-impacted forest in Brazil and drought conditions (SPEI); The lines represent the ordinary least squares linear regression between fire-impacted forest and drought conditions for pre-regulation (red) and regulation (black) respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Fire-impacted forest in different countries.

The contribution (0–1) of different countries to the newly fire-impacted forest each year based on MODIS active fire (top) and MODIS burned area (bottom).

Extended Data Figure 8 Impacts of fire on forest and biodiversity in Brazil.

a , Newly fire-impacted forest, b , new range impact on plants and c , new range impacts on vertebrate species in Brazil each year (based on MODIS active fire) that are not predicted by drought conditions. The colours represent three policy regimes: pre-regulation in red, regulation in grey and 2019 in blue. The y-axis represents the difference between actual value (area or range impacted by fire) and the values predicted by drought conditions calibrated by data from regulation years ( Methods ). A positive value on the y-axis represents more area or range impacted by fire than the expectation using the regulation years as a baseline. The dotted lines represent a smooth curve fitted to the values based on the loess method.

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Feng, X., Merow, C., Liu, Z. et al. How deregulation, drought and increasing fire impact Amazonian biodiversity. Nature 597 , 516–521 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03876-7

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Published : 01 September 2021

Issue Date : 23 September 2021

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03876-7

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case study on amazon rainforest

Deforestation, warming flip part of Amazon forest from carbon sink to source

  • July 14, 2021
  • Download Cover Image

The study area, which represents about 20 percent of the Amazon basin, has lost 30 percent of its rainforest

New results from a nine-year research project in the eastern Amazon rainforest finds that significant deforestation in eastern and southeastern Brazil has been associated with a long-term decrease in rainfall and increase in temperature during the dry season, turning what was once a forest that absorbed carbon dioxide into a source of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.

The study, published in the journal Nature , explored whether these changes had altered how much carbon the Amazon stored in its vast forests. 

“Using nearly 10 years of CO 2   (carbon dioxide ) measurements, we found that the more deforested and climate-stressed eastern Amazon, especially the southeast, was a net emitter of CO 2 to the atmosphere, especially as a result of fires,” said John Miller, a scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory and a co-author. “On the other hand, the wetter, more intact western and central Amazon, was neither a carbon sink nor source of atmospheric CO 2 , with the absorption by healthy forests balancing the emissions from fires.”   

In addition to storing vast amounts of carbon, Amazonia is also one of the wettest places on Earth, storing immense amounts of water in its soils and vegetation. Transpired by leaves, this moisture evaporates into the atmosphere, where it fuels prodigious rainfall, averaging more than seven feet per year across the basin. For comparison the average annual rainfall in the contiguous U.S. is two and half feet. Several studies have estimated that water cycling through evaporation is responsible for 25 to 35 percent of total rainfall in the basin. 

But deforestation and global warming over the last 40 years have affected rainfall and temperature with potential impacts for the Amazon’s ability to store carbon. Conversion of rainforest to agriculture has caused a 17 percent decrease in forest extent in the Amazon, which stretches over an area almost as large as the continental U.S.. Replacing dense, humid forest canopies with drier pastures and cropland has increased local temperatures and decreased evaporation of water from the rainforest, which deprives downwind locations of rainfall. Regional deforestation and selective logging of adjacent forests further reduces forest cover, amplifying the cycle of drying and warming.  This, in turn, can reduce the capacity of the forests to store carbon,  and increase their vulnerability to fires.

The  2.8 million square miles of jungle in the Amazon basin represents more than half of the tropical rainforest remaining on the planet. The Amazon is estimated to contain about 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground, and is one of Earth’s most important terrestrial carbon reserves. As global fossil-fuel burning has risen, the Amazon has absorbed CO 2 from the atmosphere, helping to moderate global climate.  But there are indications from this study and previous ones that the Amazon’s capacity to act as a sink may be disappearing.

Over the past several decades, intense scientific interest has focused on the question of whether the combined effects of climate change and the ongoing conversion of jungle to pasture and cropland could cause the Amazon to release more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. 

In 2010, lead author Luciana Gatti, who led the international team of scientists from Brazil, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Netherlands, set out to explore this question. During the next nine years, Gatti, a scientist with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and colleagues obtained airborne measurements of CO 2  and carbon monoxide concentrations above Brazilian Amazonia. Analysis of CO 2 measurements from over 600 aircraft vertical profiles, extending from the surface to around 2.8 miles above sea level at four sites, revealed that total carbon emissions in eastern Amazonia are greater than those in the west. 

“The regions of southern Pará and northern Mato Grosso states represent a worst-case scenario,” said Gatti. 

The southeast region, which represents about 20 percent of the Amazon basin, and has experienced 30 percent deforestation over the previous 40 years. Scientists recorded a 25 percent reduction in precipitation and a temperature increase of at least 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry months of August, September and October, when trees are already under seasonal stress. Airborne measurements over nine years revealed this region was a net emitter of carbon, mainly as a result of fires, while areas further west, where less than 20 percent of the forest had been removed, sources balanced sinks. The scientists said the increased emissions were likely due to conversion of forest to cropland by burning, and by reduced uptake of CO 2 by the trees that remained. 

These findings help scientists better understand the long-term impacts of interactions between climate and human disturbances on the carbon balance of the world’s largest tropical forest.

“The big question this research raises is if the connection between climate, deforestation, and carbon that we see in the eastern Amazon could one day be the fate of the central and western Amazon, if they become subject to stronger human impact,” Miller said.  Changes in the capacity of tropical forests to absorb carbon will require downward adjustments of the fossil fuel emissions compatible with limiting global mean temperature increases to less than 2.0 or 1.5 degrees Celsius, he added.

This research was supported by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory and by funding from the State of Sao Paulo Science Foundation, UK Environmental Research Council, NASA, and the European Research Council. 

For more information, contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications: [email protected]

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case study on amazon rainforest

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Popup call to action.

A prompt with more information on your call to action.

Amazon Deforestation and Climate Change

Join Gisele Bundchen when she meets with one of Brazil’s top climate scientists to discuss the complexity of the Amazon rainforest and its connection to Earth’s atmosphere.

Anthropology, Geography

High on a tower overlooking the lush Amazon canopy, Gisele Bundchen and Brazilian climate scientist Antonio Nobre talk about the importance of the rainforest and the impact of cutting down its trees.

As Nobre explains, the rainforest is not only home to an incredible diversity of species, it also has a critical cooling effect on the planet because its trees channel heat high into the atmosphere. In addition, forests absorb and store carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from the atmosphere—CO 2 that is released back into the atmosphere when trees are cut and burned.

Nobre warns that if deforestation continues at current levels, we are headed for disaster. The Amazon region could become drier and drier, unable to support healthy habitats or croplands.

Find more of this story in the “Fueling the Fire” episode of the National Geographic Channel’s Years of Living Dangerously series.

Transcript (English)

- Growing up in Southern Brazil, my five sisters and I ate meat pretty much every day. It's just part of the culture here. Per capita, Brazilians are one of the top consumers of beef on the planet. Now, with the world's growing appetite for beef, Brazil has also become a major exporter and is aiming to increase its market share, partly by selling to the US, the world's biggest consumer of beef, and to China, where demand for beef has grown 25% in just 10 years. I understand the need to develop and grow, but does that have to come at the expense of the rainforest and the climate? The Amazon Rainforest is about the same size as the continental United States. One-fifth of the world's fresh water runs through it, and it is home to more species of animals and plants than anywhere on Earth. The Amazon represents more than half of the remaining rainforests on the planet. This forest is so vast, but it is not indestructible. To find out what's at stake, I'm going to talk to one of Brazil's top climate scientist, Dr. Antonio Nobre. So Antonio, tell us a little bit about this amazing green carpet of heaven over here.

- Well, most people don't have the opportunity to come from the top of the forest. If you see all this many shades of green as you see here, it's because biodiversity is the essence of this type of forest. Every species of trees has thousands of species of bugs, and also if you get a leaf of one of the species, and you look to the microbes that is sitting on the top of leaf, you find millions of species, millions, and this is all below our radar screen, so to speak, because we don't realize, it's invisible. And the trees are shooting water from the ground, groundwater up high in the sky, and this goes up into the atmosphere and releases the heat out there, and this radiates to space. And this is very important as a mechanism to cool the planet. They're like air conditioners. Open air conditioning, that's what the forest is.

- So in other words, if we lose all these trees, we are losing the air conditioning that cools off the whole planet.

- Not only that.

- Not only that?

- No. The trees are soaking up carbon, you know the pollution that we produce, like carbon dioxide? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- Burning gasoline in our cars, you release carbon dioxide in the air, or burning coal, and the trees use carbon dioxide as a raw material.

- So the trees are storing all this carbon, so if you come and cut it down and burn it out, does that mean that all that carbon goes up in the air?

- Absolutely. Yeah.

- What would happen if this forest was gone?

- When the forest is destroyed, climate changes, and then forest that's left is damaged as well. And then the forest grows drier and drier and eventually catch fire. So in the extreme, the whole area becomes a desert. And that's what is in store if we deforest. So we have to quit deforestation yesterday, not 2020 or '30. And there is no plan C. You know, you have plan A. Plan A is business as usual. Keep plundering with all the resources and using as if it were infinite. Plan B is what many people are attempting, changing the matrix of energy and using clean sources, stop eating too much meat, and replanting forests If that doesn't work, then we go to plan C. What's plan C? I have no idea.

- Going to another planet.

- But we can't do that.

- We don't have another planet, so either we work with plan B or we're-

- Basically, yeah. We're done, and so plan B has to work. It has to work.

- People have to take accountability, 'cause it can't just be like, I'm leaving over here and whatever happens over there, who cares?

- It's not my problem.

- It's not my problem, because it is everyone's problem.

- Yes. People should wake up. It's like when you're in the midst of an unfolding disaster, what do you do? You panic? No. You move it. Move, move, move, move. That's what we need to do.

Transcripción (Español)

- El año en que vivimos en peligro.

- Cuando era niña en el sur de Brasil, mis cinco hermanas y yo comíamos carne casi todos los días. Es parte de la cultura aquí. Per cápita, los brasileños son uno de los mayores consumidores de carne de res en el planeta. Ahora, con el creciente apetito mundial por la carne de res, Brasil también se ha convertido en un importante exportador y está buscando aumentar su participación en el mercado, en parte vendiendo a los Estados Unidos, el mayor consumidor de carne de res del mundo, y a China, donde la demanda de carne de res ha crecido un 25 % en tan solo 10 años. Entiendo la necesidad de desarrollarse y crecer, pero ¿tiene que ser a expensas de la selva tropical y el clima? La selva amazónica tiene casi el mismo tamaño que los Estados Unidos continentales. Una quinta parte del agua dulce del mundo fluye a través de ella. Y es hogar de más especies de animales y plantas que cualquier otro lugar en la Tierra. El Amazonas representa más de la mitad de las selvas tropicales restantes en el planeta. Estado Mato Grosso, Brasil Esta selva es tan vasta, pero no es indestructible. Para descubrir lo que está en juego, voy a hablar con uno de los principales científicos climáticos de Brasil, el Dr. Antonio Nobre. Antonio, cuéntanos un poco acerca de esta increíble alfombra verde de cielo que tenemos aquí.

- Bueno, la mayoría de las personas no tienen la oportunidad de venir hasta la cima de la selva. Si ves todos los diferentes tonos de verde como estos aquí, es porque la biodiversidad es la esencia de este tipo de selva. Cada especie de árboles tiene miles de especies de insectos, y también si tomas una hoja de una de las especies, y miras a los microbios en la parte superior de la hoja, encuentras millones de especies, millones, y todo esto queda por debajo de nuestro radar, porque no nos damos cuenta, es invisible. Y los árboles están extrayendo agua del subsuelo, hasta lo alto en el cielo, y esto sube a la atmósfera y libera el calor allí, y esto se irradia al espacio. Este es un mecanismo muy importante para enfriar el planeta. Son como aires acondicionados. Aire acondicionado al aire libre, eso es el bosque.

- En otras palabras, si perdemos todos estos árboles, estamos perdiendo el aire acondicionado que enfría todo el planeta.

- No solo eso.

- ¿No solo eso?

- No. Los árboles están absorbiendo carbono, ¿la contaminación que producimos, como el dióxido de carbono?

- Al quemar gasolina en los autos, se libera dióxido de carbono al aire, o quemando carbón, y los árboles usan el dióxido de carbono como materia prima.

- Entonces los árboles están almacenando todo este carbono, así que si lo cortas y lo quemas, ¿eso significa que todo ese carbono sube al aire?

- Absolutamente. Sí.

- ¿Qué pasaría si este bosque desapareciera?

- Cuando el bosque es destruido, el clima cambia, y luego el bosque que queda también se daña. Luego el bosque se vuelve cada vez más seco y eventualmente se incendia. En caso extremo, toda el área se convierte en un desierto. Eso es lo que nos espera si deforestamos. Así que tenemos que dejar de deforestar desde ayer, no en 2020 o 2030. No hay un plan C. Tienes un plan A. El plan A es seguir como siempre. Continuar saqueando todos los recursos y usarlos como si fueran infinitos. El plan B es lo que muchos están intentando, cambiar la matriz de energía y usar fuentes limpias, dejar de comer demasiada carne y reforestar bosques. Si eso no funciona, entonces pasamos al plan C. ¿Cuál es el plan C?

- No tengo idea.

- Ir a otro planeta.

- Pero no podemos hacer eso.

- No tenemos otro planeta, así que o trabajamos con el plan B o estamos-

- Acabados.

- Básicamente, sí. Estamos acabados, así que el plan B tiene que funcionar. Tiene que funcionar.

- Las personas deben asumir responsabilidad, porque no puedes nada más pensar, yo vivo aquí y lo que suceda por allá, ¿a quién le importa?

- A mí qué.

- No es mi problema, porque es un problema de todos.

- Sí. La gente debería despertar. Es como cuando estás en medio de un desastre en desarrollo, ¿qué haces? ¿Entrar en pánico? No. Lo mueves. Que se mueva. Eso es lo que necesitamos hacer.

The Amazon rain forest absorbs one-fourth of the CO2 absorbed by all the land on Earth. The amount absorbed today, however, is 30% less than it was in the 1990s because of deforestation. A major motive for deforestation is cattle ranching. China, the United States, and other countries have created a consumer demand for beef, so clearing land for cattle ranching can be profitable—even if it’s illegal. The demand for pastureland, as well as cropland for food such as soybeans, makes it difficult to protect forest resources.

Many countries are making progress in the effort to stop deforestation. Countries in South America and Southeast Asia, as well as China, have taken steps that have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the destruction of forests by one-fourth over the past 15 years.

Brazil continues to make impressive strides in reducing its impact on climate change. In the past two decades, its CO2 emissions have dropped more than any other country. Destruction of the rain forest in Brazil has decreased from about 19,943 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) per year in the late 1990s to about 5,180 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) per year now. Moving forward, the major challenge will be fighting illegal deforestation.

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Related Resources

Case Study: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation in the amazon rainforest.

The Amazon rainforest area spans about 8,200,000km 2 across 9 countries, making it the largest rainforest in the world. The tree coverage in 1970 was 4.1m km 2 . In 2018, it was 3.3m km 2 . Between 2001 and 2013, the causes of Amazonian deforestation were:

Illustrative background for Pasture and cattle ranching = 63%

Pasture and cattle ranching = 63%

Illustrative background for Small-scale, subsistence farmers = 12%

Small-scale, subsistence farmers = 12%

Illustrative background for Fire = 9%

Commercial crop farming = 7%

Illustrative background for Tree felling and logging = 6%

Tree felling and logging = 6%

Illustrative background for Other activities = 3%

Other activities = 3%

  • E.g. plantations, mining, road-building, and construction.

Impacts of Deforestation in the Amazon

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has the following environmental and economic impacts:

Illustrative background for Environmental impact of Amazonian deforestation

Environmental impact of Amazonian deforestation

  • Photosynthesis by trees in the Amazon absorbs 5% of the world's carbon emissions each year (2bn tons of CO2).
  • 100 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the wood of the trees in the Amazon.
  • If the Amazon were completely deforested, it would release the 100bn tonnes and also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by 2bn tons each year.
  • Trees anchor soil in the ground, bound to their roots. Deforestation damages the topsoil and once this has happened, the fertility of the ground is seriously damaged.

Illustrative background for Economic impact of Amazonian deforestation

Economic impact of Amazonian deforestation

  • Deforestation has fuelled the economic development of poor countries.
  • In 2018, Brazil exported $28bn worth of metals. The mining industry creates jobs, exports and helps increase Brazilian people's standard of living.
  • Similarly, hydroelectric power plants and cattle farms help to create jobs.
  • In 2018, Brazil became the world's largest exporter of beef.
  • Rio Tinto, an iron ore mining company employs 47,000 people globally and thousands of these are in Brazil.

Illustrative background for The rate of deforestation in the Amazon

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon

  • In 2015, the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff claimed that the rate of deforestation had fallen by 83% and that actually Brazil was going to reforest the Amazon.
  • However, the policies under President Temer and President Bolsonaro has reversed Rousseff's plan. In 2019, under Bolsonaro, the rate of deforestation was increasing again.

1 The Challenge of Natural Hazards

1.1 Natural Hazards

1.1.1 Types of Natural Hazards

1.1.2 Hazard Risk

1.1.3 Consequences of Natural Hazards

1.1.4 End of Topic Test - Natural Hazards

1.1.5 Exam-Style Questions - Natural Hazards

1.2 Tectonic Hazards

1.2.1 Tectonic Plates

1.2.2 Tectonic Plates & Convection Currents

1.2.3 Plate Margins

1.2.4 Volcanoes

1.2.5 Effects of Volcanoes

1.2.6 Responses to Volcanic Eruptions

1.2.7 Earthquakes

1.2.8 Earthquakes 2

1.2.9 Responses to Earthquakes

1.2.10 Case Studies: The L'Aquila & Kashmir Earthquakes

1.2.11 Earthquake Case Study: Chile 2010

1.2.12 Earthquake Case Study: Nepal 2015

1.2.13 Living with Tectonic Hazards 1

1.2.14 Living with Tectonic Hazards 2

1.2.15 End of Topic Test - Tectonic Hazards

1.2.16 Exam-Style Questions - Tectonic Hazards

1.2.17 Tectonic Hazards - Statistical Skills

1.3 Weather Hazards

1.3.1 Global Atmospheric Circulation

1.3.2 Surface Winds

1.3.3 UK Weather Hazards

1.3.4 Tropical Storms

1.3.5 Features of Tropical Storms

1.3.6 Impact of Tropical Storms 1

1.3.7 Impact of Tropical Storms 2

1.3.8 Tropical Storms Case Study: Katrina

1.3.9 Tropical Storms Case Study: Haiyan

1.3.10 UK Weather Hazards Case Study: Somerset 2014

1.3.11 End of Topic Test - Weather Hazards

1.3.12 Exam-Style Questions - Weather Hazards

1.3.13 Weather Hazards - Statistical Skills

1.4 Climate Change

1.4.1 Evidence for Climate Change

1.4.2 Causes of Climate Change

1.4.3 Effects of Climate Change

1.4.4 Managing Climate Change

1.4.5 End of Topic Test - Climate Change

1.4.6 Exam-Style Questions - Climate Change

1.4.7 Climate Change - Statistical Skills

2 The Living World

2.1 Ecosystems

2.1.1 Ecosystems

2.1.2 Ecosystem Cascades & Global Ecosystems

2.1.3 Ecosystem Case Study: Freshwater Ponds

2.2 Tropical Rainforests

2.2.1 Tropical Rainforests - Intro & Interdependence

2.2.2 Adaptations

2.2.3 Biodiversity of Tropical Rainforests

2.2.4 Deforestation

2.2.5 Case Study: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

2.2.6 Sustainable Management of Rainforests

2.2.7 Case Study: Malaysian Rainforest

2.2.8 End of Topic Test - Tropical Rainforests

2.2.9 Exam-Style Questions - Tropical Rainforests

2.2.10 Deforestation - Statistical Skills

2.3 Hot Deserts

2.3.1 Overview of Hot Deserts

2.3.2 Biodiversity & Adaptation to Hot Deserts

2.3.3 Case Study: Sahara Desert

2.3.4 Desertification

2.3.5 Case Study: Thar Desert

2.3.6 End of Topic Test - Hot Deserts

2.3.7 Exam-Style Questions - Hot Deserts

2.4 Tundra & Polar Environments

2.4.1 Overview of Cold Environments

2.4.2 Adaptations in Cold Environments

2.4.3 Biodiversity in Cold Environments

2.4.4 Case Study: Alaska

2.4.5 Sustainable Management

2.4.6 Case Study: Svalbard

2.4.7 End of Topic Test - Tundra & Polar Environments

2.4.8 Exam-Style Questions - Cold Environments

3 Physical Landscapes in the UK

3.1 The UK Physical Landscape

3.1.1 The UK Physical Landscape

3.2 Coastal Landscapes in the UK

3.2.1 Types of Wave

3.2.2 Weathering & Mass Movement

3.2.3 Processes of Erosion & Wave-Cut Platforms

3.2.4 Headlands, Bays, Caves, Arches & Stacks

3.2.5 Transportation

3.2.6 Deposition

3.2.7 Spits, Bars & Sand Dunes

3.2.8 Case Study: Landforms on the Dorset Coast

3.2.9 Types of Coastal Management 1

3.2.10 Types of Coastal Management 2

3.2.11 Coastal Management Case Study - Holderness

3.2.12 Coastal Management Case Study: Swanage

3.2.13 Coastal Management Case Study - Lyme Regis

3.2.14 End of Topic Test - Coastal Landscapes in the UK

3.2.15 Exam-Style Questions - Coasts

3.3 River Landscapes in the UK

3.3.1 The River Valley

3.3.2 River Valley Case Study - River Tees

3.3.3 Erosion

3.3.4 Transportation & Deposition

3.3.5 Waterfalls, Gorges & Interlocking Spurs

3.3.6 Meanders & Oxbow Lakes

3.3.7 Floodplains & Levees

3.3.8 Estuaries

3.3.9 Case Study: The River Clyde

3.3.10 River Management

3.3.11 Hard & Soft Flood Defences

3.3.12 River Management Case Study - Boscastle

3.3.13 River Management Case Study - Banbury

3.3.14 End of Topic Test - River Landscapes in the UK

3.3.15 Exam-Style Questions - Rivers

3.4 Glacial Landscapes in the UK

3.4.1 Erosion

3.4.2 Landforms Caused by Erosion

3.4.3 Landforms Caused by Transportation & Deposition

3.4.4 Snowdonia

3.4.5 Land Use in Glaciated Areas

3.4.6 Tourism in Glacial Landscapes

3.4.7 Case Study - Lake District

3.4.8 End of Topic Test - Glacial Landscapes in the UK

3.4.9 Exam-Style Questions - Glacial Landscapes

4 Urban Issues & Challenges

4.1 Urban Issues & Challenges

4.1.1 Urbanisation

4.1.2 Urbanisation Case Study: Lagos

4.1.3 Urbanisation Case Study: Rio de Janeiro

4.1.4 UK Cities

4.1.5 Case Study: Urban Regen Projects - Manchester

4.1.6 Case Study: Urban Change in Liverpool

4.1.7 Case Study: Urban Change in Bristol

4.1.8 Sustainable Urban Life

4.1.9 End of Topic Test - Urban Issues & Challenges

4.1.10 Exam-Style Questions - Urban Issues & Challenges

4.1.11 Urban Issues -Statistical Skills

5 The Changing Economic World

5.1 The Changing Economic World

5.1.1 Measuring Development

5.1.2 Classifying Countries Based on Wealth

5.1.3 The Demographic Transition Model

5.1.4 Physical & Historical Causes of Uneven Development

5.1.5 Economic Causes of Uneven Development

5.1.6 How Can We Reduce the Global Development Gap?

5.1.7 Case Study: Tourism in Kenya

5.1.8 Case Study: Tourism in Jamaica

5.1.9 Case Study: Economic Development in India

5.1.10 Case Study: Aid & Development in India

5.1.11 Case Study: Economic Development in Nigeria

5.1.12 Case Study: Aid & Development in Nigeria

5.1.13 Economic Development in the UK

5.1.14 Economic Development UK: Industry & Rural

5.1.15 Economic Development UK: Transport & North-South

5.1.16 Economic Development UK: Regional & Global

5.1.17 End of Topic Test - The Changing Economic World

5.1.18 Exam-Style Questions - The Changing Economic World

5.1.19 Changing Economic World - Statistical Skills

6 The Challenge of Resource Management

6.1 Resource Management

6.1.1 Global Distribution of Resources

6.1.2 Food in the UK

6.1.3 Water in the UK 1

6.1.4 Water in the UK 2

6.1.5 Energy in the UK

6.1.6 Resource Management - Statistical Skills

6.2.1 Areas of Food Surplus & Food Deficit

6.2.2 Food Supply & Food Insecurity

6.2.3 Increasing Food Supply

6.2.4 Case Study: Thanet Earth

6.2.5 Creating a Sustainable Food Supply

6.2.6 Case Study: Agroforestry in Mali

6.2.7 End of Topic Test - Food

6.2.8 Exam-Style Questions - Food

6.2.9 Food - Statistical Skills

6.3.1 The Global Demand for Water

6.3.2 What Affects the Availability of Water?

6.3.3 Increasing Water Supplies

6.3.4 Case Study: Water Transfer in China

6.3.5 Sustainable Water Supply

6.3.6 Case Study: Kenya's Sand Dams

6.3.7 Case Study: Lesotho Highland Water Project

6.3.8 Case Study: Wakel River Basin Project

6.3.9 Exam-Style Questions - Water

6.3.10 Water - Statistical Skills

6.4.1 Global Demand for Energy

6.4.2 Factors Affecting Energy Supply

6.4.3 Increasing Energy Supply: Renewables

6.4.4 Increasing Energy Supply: Non-Renewables

6.4.5 Carbon Footprints & Energy Conservation

6.4.6 Case Study: Rice Husks in Bihar

6.4.7 Exam-Style Questions - Energy

6.4.8 Energy - Statistical Skills

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73 Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest

The amazon in context.

Tropical rainforests are often considered to be the “cradles of biodiversity.” Though they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface, they are home to over 50% of global biodiversity. Rain forests also take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis, which has also given them the nickname “lungs of the planet.” They also store very large amounts of carbon, and so cutting and burning their biomass contributes to global climate change. Many modern medicines are derived from rainforest plants, and several very important food crops originated in the rainforest, including bananas, mangos, chocolate, coffee, and sugar cane.

Aerial view of the Amazon tributary

In order to qualify as a tropical rainforest, an area must receive over 250 centimeters of rainfall each year and have an average temperature above 24 degrees centigrade, as well as never experiencing frosts. The Amazon rainforest in South America is the largest in the world. The second largest is the Congo in central Africa, and other important rainforests can be found in Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Brazil contains about 40% of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest. Its rainforest covers an area of land about 2/3 the size of the continental United States.

There are countless reasons, both anthropocentric and ecocentric, to value rainforests. But they are one of the most threatened types of ecosystems in the world today. It’s somewhat difficult to estimate how quickly rainforests are being cut down, but estimates range from between 50,000 and 170,000 square kilometers per year. Even the most conservative estimates project that if we keep cutting rainforests as we are today, within about 100 years there will be none left.

How does a rainforest work?

Rainforests are incredibly complex ecosystems, but understanding a few basics about their ecology will help us understand why clear-cutting and fragmentation are such destructive activities for rainforest biodiversity.

trees in the tropical rain forest

High biodiversity in tropical rainforests means that the interrelationships between organisms are very complex. A single tree may house more than 40 different ant species, each of which has a different ecological function and may alter the habitat in distinct and important ways. Ecologists debate about whether systems that have high biodiversity are stable and resilient, like a spider web composed of many strong individual strands, or fragile, like a house of cards. Both metaphors are likely appropriate in some cases. One thing we can be certain of is that it is very difficult in a rainforest system, as in most others, to affect just one type of organism. Also, clear cutting one small area may damage hundreds or thousands of established species interactions that reach beyond the cleared area.

Pollination is a challenge for rainforest trees because there are so many different species, unlike forests in the temperate regions that are often dominated by less than a dozen tree species. One solution is for individual trees to grow close together, making pollination simpler, but this can make that species vulnerable to extinction if the one area where it lives is clear cut. Another strategy is to develop a mutualistic relationship with a long-distance pollinator, like a specific bee or hummingbird species. These pollinators develop mental maps of where each tree of a particular species is located and then travel between them on a sort of “trap-line” that allows trees to pollinate each other. One problem is that if a forest is fragmented then these trap-line connections can be disrupted, and so trees can fail to be pollinated and reproduce even if they haven’t been cut.

The quality of rainforest soils is perhaps the most surprising aspect of their ecology. We might expect a lush rainforest to grow from incredibly rich, fertile soils, but actually, the opposite is true. While some rainforest soils that are derived from volcanic ash or from river deposits can be quite fertile, generally rainforest soils are very poor in nutrients and organic matter. Rainforests hold most of their nutrients in their live vegetation, not in the soil. Their soils do not maintain nutrients very well either, which means that existing nutrients quickly “leech” out, being carried away by water as it percolates through the soil. Also, soils in rainforests tend to be acidic, which means that it’s difficult for plants to access even the few existing nutrients. The section on slash and burn agriculture in the previous module describes some of the challenges that farmers face when they attempt to grow crops on tropical rainforest soils, but perhaps the most important lesson is that once a rainforest is cut down and cleared away, very little fertility is left to help a forest regrow.

What is driving deforestation in the Amazon?

Many factors contribute to tropical deforestation, but consider this typical set of circumstances and processes that result in rapid and unsustainable rates of deforestation. This story fits well with the historical experience of Brazil and other countries with territory in the Amazon Basin.

Population growth and poverty encourage poor farmers to clear new areas of rainforest, and their efforts are further exacerbated by government policies that permit landless peasants to establish legal title to land that they have cleared.

At the same time, international lending institutions like the World Bank provide money to the national government for large-scale projects like mining, construction of dams, new roads, and other infrastructure that directly reduces the forest or makes it easier for farmers to access new areas to clear.

The activities most often encouraging new road development are timber harvesting and mining. Loggers cut out the best timber for domestic use or export, and in the process knock over many other less valuable trees. Those trees are eventually cleared and used for wood pulp, or burned, and the area is converted into cattle pastures. After a few years, the vegetation is sufficiently degraded to make it not profitable to raise cattle, and the land is sold to poor farmers seeking out a subsistence living.

Regardless of how poor farmers get their land, they often are only able to gain a few years of decent crop yields before the poor quality of the soil overwhelms their efforts, and then they are forced to move on to another plot of land. Small-scale farmers also hunt for meat in the remaining fragmented forest areas, which reduces the biodiversity in those areas as well.

Another important factor not mentioned in the scenario above is the clearing of rainforest for industrial agriculture plantations of bananas, pineapples, and sugar cane. These crops are primarily grown for export, and so an additional driver to consider is consumer demand for these crops in countries like the United States.

These cycles of land use, which are driven by poverty and population growth as well as government policies, have led to the rapid loss of tropical rainforests. What is lost in many cases is not simply biodiversity, but also valuable renewable resources that could sustain many generations of humans to come. Efforts to protect rainforests and other areas of high biodiversity is the topic of the next section.

Introduction to Geography Copyright © by Petra Tschakert; Karl Zimmerer; Brian King; Seth Baum; and Chongming Wang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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To save the amazon, what if we listened to those living within it, aiming to prevent “climate and ecological collapse,” rainforest inhabitants release a detailed plan to save their home, honing in on ending fossil fuel subsidies and securing indigenous land rights..

case study on amazon rainforest

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Young people from Amazonian communities march during the Pan-Amazon Social Forum in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia on June 12. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

The International System That Pits Foreign Investors Against Indigenous Communities

Aymara activists opposed to mining operations in Peru's southeastern Puno region organized on May 31, 2011 for a wave of protests against the Canada-based Bear Creek Mining Corporation plans to open a silver mine in the area. Credit: Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images

Armed Groups Use Deforestation as a Bargaining Chip in Colombia

A Colombian military police helicopter takes off from the base, which they share with a civilian airport, in Florencia, Caqueta.

A River in Flux

A man uses a spear to deter pink dolphins as they attempt to snatch fish from the fishermen's nets, often resulting in the damaging the nylon tools. Credit: Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media

RURRENABAQUE, Bolivia—Beneath a setting sun, marchers clad in feathered headdresses and hand woven clothing streamed across the Alto Beni River bridge on a muggy June evening, calling out: 

“Agua si! Minería no!” 

“Viva Amazonia!”

The march marked the opening of a four-day gathering known as the Pan-Amazon Social Forum (FOSPA), a semi-annual incubator where activists and leaders from Indigenous, Afro-descendant and other land-based communities exchange ideas for defending nature and the people of the Amazon rainforest.

Attendees, young and old, brown, Black and white, chanting “Water, yes! Mining no!” clasped signs representing dozens of organizations and causes, from “Women in the Northern Amazon” to “Nunca Más Un Mundo Sin Nosotros,” or Never Again a World Without Us. 

Explore the latest news about what’s at stake for the climate during this election season.

For the 1,400 who descended on this small, bucolic Amazonian town, most of whom hail from Indigenous and other local communities across the nine Amazonian countries—Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana—the meeting was a welcome change from the formal United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COPs). COPs on climate change and biodiversity, which are dominated by government delegations, have been criticized for being captured by industry lobbyists. 

“FOSPA is one of the few spaces for us to have our own dialogues,” said Vanuza Abacatal, the leader of a 314-year-old Quilombola community in Pará, Brazil. Abacatal’s community has struggled to defend its autonomy and maintain its way of life in the face of an encroaching agricultural frontier, mining and deforestation. 

Beyond feeling that international negotiations are disconnected from their lives, the marchers here in Rurrenabaque and San Buenaventura, the small Bolivian towns hosting the conference, say governmental climate talks have failed. They cite the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Amazonian marchers wave the Colombian flag (left)and Bolivian Aimara wiphala flag (right) during FOSPA. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

In 2023, global average temperatures breached 1.5 C for 12 months in a row, the European climate service Copernicus announced in February, and the world’s current warming trajectory will put global temperature rise at 2.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Scientists say that amount of warming will be disastrous for the Amazon. Current levels of warming are already changing the forest’s hydrological cycles, drying it out and making it more susceptible to fire. As more forest is lost, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, worsening global warming in a reinforcing cycle. 

Climate change is just one of several human-driven forces that has, over the last century, caused about 20 percent of the Amazon to be lost and an even larger portion to be degraded. Agriculture, cattle rearing, mining, oil extraction and logging are all contributing factors. Loss of the Amazon, which is happening at a pace of roughly four soccer fields per minute, has already reached a point where some portions of the forest can no longer regenerate and have become grasslands. Directly affected are 47 million people living in the Amazon region who depend on the forest for their livelihoods, fresh water and other resources. 

Vanuza Abacatal, 47, is the leader of a Quilombola community in Para, Brazil. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

The marchers here at FOSPA are witnessing the Amazon’s destruction first hand. “We are being suffocated by large enterprises,” Abacatal said. 

She and other Amazonian inhabitants are simultaneously the most impacted by the loss of the forest and, they have long argued, best positioned to safeguard what remains of it. Their peoples’ centuries of experience living within the forest has endowed them with valuable knowledge about it.

Research is quickly catching up to them, with study after study confirming that Indigenous communities with secure land tenure have the best conservation outcomes, even when located near urban areas. And, increasingly, scientists are partnering with some Indigenous and local communities to identify key biodiversity hotspots and prioritize those areas, like animal reproduction and migration zones, for conservation. 

With those bona fides, participants said they are ramping up their ambitions since the last FOSPA, held in 2022 in Belem, Brazil. That conference, like the nine before it dating to 2002, generated an accounting of the threats facing the forest and called on governments to do more to protect it. 

case study on amazon rainforest

But in the intervening two years since Belem, millions of acres of the Amazon have been cleared, burned or degraded; threats to inhabitants like mining and drug trafficking grew; and governmental talks in a separate conference in Belem in 2023 among the leaders of the nine Amazonian nations concluded without an agreement on stopping illegal deforestation by 2030. Instead, that Brazil-led summit ended with a vague text promising to cooperate on staunching illegal deforestation and promoting sustainable development. 

So, with the stakes as high as ever, FOSPA attendees in Rurrenabaque had a deadline in sight: Within four days, they had to deliver a written prescription for what the world must do to prevent “climate and ecological collapse.” 

‘Original People Without Our Land Are Nothing’

On the second day of the conference, in an Indigenous community outside Rurrenabaque, dozens of people focused their attention on Mari Luz and Emilsen Flores, Peruvian Kukama leaders. They were gathered inside a rainforest pavilion where nearly everyone had broken out into a sweat in the tropical heat. The pavilion had been set up with white plastic chairs, though some local men remained standing outside, their heads poking over the structure’s walls.

Luz, speaking in a gentle voice, unspooled how she, Flores and other Kukama women won a historic Peruvian court ruling in March, establishing that the heavily polluted Marañon River is a living being with inherent rights. 

It was a major victory in the rights of nature movement, which aims to garner legal recognition of the rights of rivers, forests and whole ecosystems to exist. The movement is largely seen as translating into law the worldviews of Indigenous peoples. 

Emilsen Flores (center) and Mari Luz (right), Peruvian Kukama leaders, speak to attendees of the FOSPA conference on June 13 in Bella Altura, Bolivia. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

As Luz spoke, glasses of fresh papaya juice and chicha, a customary drink made from fermented corn, were passed around to the mix of conference attendees and Tacana people from the host community, Bella Altura.  

She began in 2000, when environmental organizations from Europe came to meet with locals about the vast oil-related pollution in the Loreto region of Peru, which had been ongoing since 1974. For Luz and the others, who depended on the Marañon River for food, water and transportation, the contamination had been catastrophic. 

During the male-dominated meetings, Luz and other women had sat quietly, she explained, listening to the discussion about human rights. But later, the women met amongst themselves to discuss what they had heard. Luz recalled: “We women said, ‘We’re supposed to have rights. How can oil projects be forced on us when we don’t want them?’” 

The women quietly formed their own federation, the Huaynakana Kamatahuara kana, meaning “working women,” she said, with the aim of protecting their environment, rights and culture. And then, in what would prove to be a propitious encounter, Luz was introduced to environmental lawyers at the Peru-based Institute of Legal Defense . She wanted to know whether the Marañon River, like her, had rights.

A dialogue ensued, with Luz educating the lawyers about her peoples’ view of the world. Nature is alive, she told them, and every being has a spirit. Those spirits live in the mountains and beneath the river, maintaining all the life within it. 

The lawyers, in turn, told Luz and the Kukama women’s federation about the burgeoning body of law known as the “rights of nature.” 

"Do rivers have rights?" reads an illustration depicting the story of the Peruvian Kukama women who won a landmark victory in March establishing that the heavily polluted Marañon River is a living being with inherent rights. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

Thus began a 10-year partnership that culminated four months ago in a trial court ruling in favor of the Marañon River’s rights. Luz was blunt about the difficulties throughout. She and her family had been threatened with violence. “To be famous is very dangerous,” she said. To attend court hearings, she had to leave her rural home in the middle of the night, traveling by motorized canoe for hours, often in drenching rain.

At times, she had to sell off chickens to pay for fuel for the boat trips. Government officials demeaned her and fined her 100,000 Peruvian Soles (about $26,000 USD), she said, for her advocacy. Men in her village denigrated her. “There is a lot of machismo; they treat women like objects,” she said. 

Luz, who became more animated the longer she talked, said that over the years, she had invited men in her village to the women’s federation meetings, swaying around 70 to 80 percent of them over to the women’s cause. “We’ve grown from the bottom,” she said. 

Across the pavilion from Luz and Flores, a half dozen teenage Tacana girls watched the women with focused concentration. Other people in the crowd, including members of Brazilian and Bolivian Indigenous communities, took notes.

Luz emphasized that the Kukama women are continuing to fight—the government and other defendants have appealed the trial court ruling, and those appeals are pending. Even if they win on appeal, enforcing the river’s rights to exist, flow and be free from pollution will not be easy, she said.  

In the crowd, heads nodded. Like Luz, many of the people gathered there had lost, or never had, faith that their state legal systems would protect them. Luz’s story emphasized what most already knew: No one was coming to save them. Real solutions, they said in a question and answer session following Luz’s talk, could only come through their own struggles, experiences and efforts.

One audience member asked Luz why she continued fighting.  

“Original people without our land are nothing,” she said. “Now that we know our rights and nature’s rights, we need to claim them.”

A Just Transition

A few miles away, in the town of San Buenaventura, attendees of the conference’s “just energy transition” group arrived via motorized tuk tuks at a meeting hall at the end of a dirt road. 

After more than a year of meeting over the internet, the group was now drilling down on a final list of proposals for what a transition away from fossil fuels ought to look like. 

With a microphone passed around for three-minute orations, the session had faint echoes of a U.N. summit. Except here there were no three-piece suits or backroom dealmaking by representatives from the fossil fuel, agriculture or mining industries. 

The "just energy transition" working group at FOSPA discussed issues ranging from access to energy to carbon credit schemes and ecosystem restoration. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

Rather, participants’ policy proposals were braided together with their own lived experience with illegal mining in the Bolivian Amazon, or decades of oil pollution in Ecuador’s Oriente. 

There was broad consensus that the lack of electric power access for local communities throughout the Amazon was a major problem that had to be solved. In some cases, transmission lines had been installed adjacent to, or across from, forest communities but had never been connected. One woman told the group that her community in Brazil has no phone or internet. Instead, they have to communicate with an old-school radio. “If people don’t know what’s happening, they can’t participate in the debate about it,” she said. 

Without energy, people also cannot access education, obtain health services or build sustainable economies, J. Gadir Lavadenz Lamadrid, a La Paz-based campaign coordinator for Global Forests Coalition, told the gathering. That makes communities vulnerable when mining or oil companies approach them to initiate projects on, or affecting, community land, he said. 

Indeed, throughout Latin America, which produces a substantial share of the world’s fossil fuels, hydroelectric power and minerals used in zero-carbon technologies, 17 million people lack access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. 

Members of the "just energy transition" group draft their findings following four-days of deliberations on the issues. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

The region is also one of the most economically unequal parts of the world, making energy affordability part of the problem—even for communities enduring the brunt of the impacts from energy supply chains.

As the microphone was passed around the room, a woman from Argentina’s lithium producing region said her community’s water and soil have been contaminated from lithium brine operations. But those affected, she said, have never been compensated for the destruction, which has not been remediated. When the community demanded that the provincial government provide them with consistent renewable energy, they were told they had to purchase batteries to store it. “We don’t have the money to do that,” she said. 

The discussion moved on to a blistering criticism of the overconsumption habits of people living in wealthy countries, including the idea that the climate crisis can be solved by individuals purchasing electric vehicles. The group, some of whom live in the shadow of mining operations for zero-carbon technology inputs, called for more investment in public transport and a cultural shift away from wealthy countries’ consumer-driven culture. 

There was also broad consensus that carbon and biodiversity offsets and credits were “false solutions” that come at the Amazonian communities’ expense. Indigenous and traditional groups in the forest, numerous speakers said, are rarely consulted about such projects. 

Just days before FOSPA kicked off, Brazilian police cracked down on a scheme that allegedly provided carbon offsets to large Western corporations for rainforest preservation despite continued illegal logging. The conferees in San Buenaventura called for the funding and financing behind offset projects to instead be directed toward Indigenous and other local communities that are living sustainably in the forest. 

A mural in San Buenaventura, Bolivia depicts an Indigenous man and Amazonian wildlife, including fish overlaid with the abbreviation "Hg" for mercury on the periodic table. Studies show rivers in the Bolivian Amazon are riddled with mercury poisoning, linked to illegal gold mining operations in the region.  Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

Across 16 working groups at the conference, the issues debated were, unlike the U.N.’s annual climate COPs, rooted in the proposition of what is best for the Earth and, specifically, the Amazonian ecosystem. Ending $7 trillion in annual subsidies to extractive industries. Expanding agroecology and ecotourism. Enforcing Indigenous land rights and the right to free, prior and informed consent . Protecting environmental defenders, who are increasingly threatened, imprisoned, assaulted and killed for resisting development and extractive activities. 

Since 2014, nearly 300 environmental defenders have been killed in the Amazon, a statistic widely considered to be an undercount since the violence often takes place in remote areas. For many at FOSPA, the violence inflicted on people defending the forest is indistinguishable from the ravaging of the rainforest itself: “We are nature, defending nature,” was a common refrain.

There were also big new ideas hatched, like a detailed proposal for an Amazon-Andean treaty aimed at preserving the region’s hydrological cycles, recognizing water bodies as rights-bearing entities and creating a Permanent Assembly of Andean and Amazonian people to act as guardians for the water systems. 

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The proposal includes a description of the region’s water cycle, which begins high in Andean glaciers, flows down through rivers, cycling through Amazonian flora and fauna, and eventually moves out into the Atlantic Ocean. When one part of the cycle is altered, the entire system is affected, speakers explained: When the Amazon burns, ash from the fires lands high in the Andes, turning glaciers black, drawing in more heat and accelerating their melt rates. Loss of Andean glaciers will have downstream impacts, including the ability of millions of people to access drinking water, they said. Climate change is also affecting the region’s hydrological cycle, with droughts and heat waves stressing water sources. 

Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s former U.N. ambassador and one of the conference’s organizers, said the proposed treaty is the first water-focused treaty that is non-anthropocentric, meaning that it is centered on what is in the best interest of the hydrological cycle rather than only addressing human interests. 

“This is the beginning of a new kind of multilateralism,” said Solon, who in 2010 played a central role in launching a global rights of nature movement that now has pushed through laws in over 30 countries. 

‘Without the Amazon There Is No Solution to the Climate Crisis’

For the last day of FOSPA, conferees packed into Rurrenabaque’s colosseum stadium against a backdrop of misty rainforest draped over mountainous cliffs. 

On stage, portions of the conference’s final document, “ A call from the Amazon to build an Agreement for Life in the face of climate and ecological collapse ,” were read aloud to booming cheers while women selling empanadas and small packages of peanuts made their way through the throngs of people in the stands, some chewing on wads of coca leaves.

Representatives of communities from across the Amazon rainforest gather inside the "Colosseo" in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia on June 15 for the closing of FOSPA. Credit: Katie Surma/Inside Climate News

“Without the Amazon there is no solution to the climate crisis. Without a solution to the global climate crisis, it will not be possible to save the Amazon,” the document began. 

The communique called for the end of new investments in fossil fuel projects in the Amazon region and listed eight steps to end deforestation, including the demarcation and titling of Indigenous peoples’ lands and the sanctioning of institutions that finance activities causing deforestation.

With many in the stands filming the stage with their cell phones, representatives from three Ecuadorian Indigenous groups were asked to consider hosting the next FOSPA conference. 

The request was made largely on the basis of Ecuador’s landmark 2023 referendums , where 59 and 68 percent of voters, respectively, voted to end oil operations in a portion of Yasuni National Park and mining operations in the Chaco Andino cloud forest outside of Quito. Since the vote, Ecuador’s government has suggested that it may postpone compliance with the Yasuni referendum on national security grounds. Whether the country complies with the referendum is largely seen as a litmus test for the viability of plebiscites aimed at keeping fossil fuels in the ground. At FOSPA, participants batted around the idea of using similar tactics to block Brazil from pursuing controversial oil operations at the mouth of the Amazon River.  

The Yasuni and Chaco referendums are Amazon-grown tactics that participants aim to begin exporting. Pepe Manuyama, an Indigenous leader based in Iquitos, Peru, told other attendees they needed to lean into the political world of their home countries with the aim of promoting globally the Amazonian worldview—that nature is a living being, that it is possible for humans to thrive without unsustainably exploiting the Earth, and that humans and nature are interdependent.

“We need to build a new world,” he said. “From the Amazon, we can offer a different paradigm.” 

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Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest

The amazon in context.

Tropical rainforests are often considered to be the “cradles of biodiversity.” Though they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface, they are home to over 50% of global biodiversity. Rainforests also take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis, which has also given them the nickname “lungs of the planet.” They also store very large amounts of carbon, and so cutting and burning their biomass contributes to global climate change. Many modern medicines are derived from rainforest plants, and several very important food crops originated in the rainforest, including bananas, mangos, chocolate, coffee, and sugar cane.

Aerial view of the Amazon tributary

In order to qualify as a tropical rainforest, an area must receive over 250 centimeters of rainfall each year and have an average temperature above 24 degrees centigrade, as well as never experience frosts. The Amazon rainforest in South America is the largest in the world. The second largest is the Congo in central Africa, and other important rainforests can be found in Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Brazil contains about 40% of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest. Its rainforest covers an area of land about 2/3 the size of the continental United States.

There are countless reasons, both anthropocentric and ecocentric, to value rainforests. But they are one of the most threatened types of ecosystems in the world today. It’s somewhat difficult to estimate how quickly rainforests are being cut down, but estimates range from between 50,000 and 170,000 square kilometers per year. Even the most conservative estimates project that if we keep cutting down rainforests as we are today, within about 100 years there will be none left.

How does a rainforest work?

Rainforests are incredibly complex ecosystems, but understanding a few basics about their ecology will help us understand why clear-cutting and fragmentation are such destructive activities for rainforest biodiversity.

trees in the tropical rain forest

High biodiversity in tropical rainforests means that the interrelationships between organisms are very complex. A single tree may house more than 40 different ant species, each of which has a different ecological function and may alter the habitat in distinct and important ways. Ecologists debate about whether systems that have high biodiversity are stable and resilient, like a spider web composed of many strong individual strands, or fragile, like a house of cards. Both metaphors are likely appropriate in some cases. One thing we can be certain of is that it is very difficult in a rainforest system, as in most other ecosystems, to affect just one type of organism. Also, clear cutting one small area may damage hundreds or thousands of established species interactions that reach beyond the cleared area.

Pollination is a challenge for rainforest trees because there are so many different species, unlike forests in the temperate regions that are often dominated by less than a dozen tree species. One solution is for individual trees to grow close together, making pollination simpler, but this can make that species vulnerable to extinction if the one area where it lives is clear cut. Another strategy is to develop a mutualistic relationship with a long-distance pollinator, like a specific bee or hummingbird species. These pollinators develop mental maps of where each tree of a particular species is located and then travel between them on a sort of “trap-line” that allows trees to pollinate each other. One problem is that if a forest is fragmented then these trap-line connections can be disrupted, and so trees can fail to be pollinated and reproduce even if they haven’t been cut.

The quality of rainforest soils is perhaps the most surprising aspect of their ecology. We might expect a lush rainforest to grow from incredibly rich, fertile soils, but actually, the opposite is true. While some rainforest soils that are derived from volcanic ash or from river deposits can be quite fertile, generally rainforest soils are very poor in nutrients and organic matter. Rainforests hold most of their nutrients in their live vegetation, not in the soil. Their soils do not maintain nutrients very well either, which means that existing nutrients quickly “leech” out, being carried away by water as it percolates through the soil. Also, soils in rainforests tend to be acidic, which means that it’s difficult for plants to access even the few existing nutrients. The section on slash and burn agriculture in the previous module describes some of the challenges that farmers face when they attempt to grow crops on tropical rainforest soils, but perhaps the most important lesson is that once a rainforest is cut down and cleared away, very little fertility is left to help a forest regrow.

What is driving deforestation in the Amazon?

Many factors contribute to tropical deforestation, but consider this typical set of circumstances and processes that result in rapid and unsustainable rates of deforestation. This story fits well with the historical experience of Brazil and other countries with territory in the Amazon Basin.

Population growth and poverty encourage poor farmers to clear new areas of rainforest, and their efforts are further exacerbated by government policies that permit landless peasants to establish legal title to land that they have cleared.

At the same time, international lending institutions like the World Bank provide money to the national government for large-scale projects like mining, construction of dams, new roads, and other infrastructure that directly reduces the forest or makes it easier for farmers to access new areas to clear.

The activities most often encouraging new road development are timber harvesting and mining. Loggers cut out the best timber for domestic use or export, and in the process knock over many other less valuable trees. Those trees are eventually cleared and used for wood pulp, or burned, and the area is converted into cattle pastures. After a few years, the vegetation is sufficiently degraded to make it not profitable to raise cattle, and the land is sold to poor farmers seeking out a subsistence living.

Regardless of how poor farmers get their land, they often are only able to gain a few years of decent crop yields before the poor quality of the soil overwhelms their efforts, and then they are forced to move on to another plot of land. Small-scale farmers also hunt for meat in the remaining fragmented forest areas, which reduces the biodiversity in those areas as well.

Another important factor not mentioned in the scenario above is the clearing of rainforest for industrial agriculture plantations of bananas, pineapples, and sugar cane. These crops are primarily grown for export, and so an additional driver to consider is consumer demand for these crops in countries like the United States.

These cycles of land use, which are driven by poverty and population growth as well as government policies, have led to the rapid loss of tropical rainforests. What is lost in many cases is not simply biodiversity, but also valuable renewable resources that could sustain many generations of humans to come. Efforts to protect rainforests and other areas of high biodiversity is the topic of the next section.

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Rainfall and extreme drought detection: an analysis for a potential agricultural region in the southern brazilian amazon.

case study on amazon rainforest

1. Introduction

2. materials and methods, 2.1. study area, 2.2. acquisition and processing of data, 3.1. annual distribution of rainfall, 3.2. monthly distribution of rainfall, 3.3. monthly rainfall probability levels, 3.4. drought index (spi), 4. discussion, 4.1. annual distribution of rainfall, 4.2. monthly distribution of rainfall, 4.3. monthly rainfall probability levels, 4.4. drought index (spi), 5. conclusions, author contributions, institutional review board statement, informed consent statement, data availability statement, acknowledgments, conflicts of interest.

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Click here to enlarge figure

IDStation and CodeMunicipalityLat. (°)Long. (°)Alt. (m)Average Annual Rainfall (mm)
1Aripuanã_C_01058005Aripuanã−10.59−58.872552080
2Colniza_C_00958002Cotriguaçu−9.46−58.222242299
3Cotriguaçu_C_00958004Cotriguaçu−9.91−58.562582279
4Juína C_01058003Juína−11.41−58.723312027
SPICategory
≥2.00Extremely humid
1.99 to 1.50Very humid
1.49 to 1.00Moderately humid
0.99 to −0.99Close to normal
−1.00 to −1.49Moderately dry
−1.50 to −1.99Very dry
≤−2.00Extremely dry
YearsAnnual Amount of Rainfall (mm)
AripuanãColnizaCotriguaçuJuína
1985–20202000–20202004–20201985–2020
19852304.7 2057.4
19862427.2 1877.3
19871719.4 2257.9
19882042.7 2185.5
19892128.6 2162.4
19901764.7 1741.7
19911898.8 2033.2
19921821.9 1961.0
19931966.7 1891.8
19942418.1 2418.3
19952388.4 2141.0
19961923.8 2535.1
19972235.9 2093.6
19982069.3 2136.7
19991978.4 1947.1
20001790.12361.1 1936.4
20011916.62563.8 2248.7
20022078.01601.1 1376.2
20032168.01898.0 2461.3
20042079.92141.32136.31893.9
20052036.42086.61931.12061.3
20062349.22332.72388.12628.0
20071790.82096.72094.61833.8
20082208.62605.62296.41953.2
20092034.72478.52395.21908.9
20102373.11879.02039.92126.2
20112524.22121.62406.21732.1
20121598.42379.92363.81433.0
20132456.63017.32718.32824.4
20141795.32715.72482.41654.8
20152050.719741832.81766.1
20162503.72269.82154.91889.8
20172059.22335.51977.91488.3
20182046.12829.62723.42458.7
20191914.52609.62441.02015.4
20202013.91973.92354.21828.8
Mean2079.92298.62278.62026.6
Standard deviation240.9350.4256.2320.9
Aripuanã Station
Month αβProbability Levels
90%75%60%50%40%25%10%
Jan351.665.229.012.0437.3393.1364.3347.6331.4305.7271.1
Feb330.796.211.827.9458.3389.5345.9321.4298.0261.8214.9
Mar331.0106.59.634.2472.6395.2346.8319.6293.9254.3203.9
Apr199.082.95.734.6310.0247.0208.6187.6168.0138.6102.7
May60.044.71.833.4119.781.360.149.339.927.214.3
Jun9.515.50.325.327.211.85.53.21.70.40.0
Jul6.711.40.319.119.58.23.72.11.00.20.0
Aug12.316.00.520.932.216.69.46.44.11.70.3
Sep77.341.13.521.9132.599.780.470.160.747.031.4
Oct152.859.56.523.2232.4187.7160.3145.2131.0109.683.2
Nov238.784.47.929.9351.4289.0250.4228.8208.6177.7138.9
Dec309.8101.39.333.1444.7370.9324.7298.9274.4236.9189.1
Annual2079.9240.974.527.92394.02236.92132.02070.62010.31912.71777.7
Colniza Station
Month αβProbability Levels
90%75%60%50%40%25%10%
Jan358.691.615.323.3479.9415.5374.3350.9328.4293.4247.4
Feb368.2116.110.036.6522.7438.5385.7356.0327.9284.6229.3
Mar366.167.329.512.3454.6409.0379.2361.9345.3318.7282.8
Apr221.9110.14.054.6369.4283.1231.6203.9178.5141.297.5
May95.562.12.340.3178.7127.197.882.568.949.929.4
Jun24.122.41.120.853.533.322.717.613.37.93.2
Jul14.219.80.527.438.319.010.36.74.11.50.2
Aug44.036.21.429.892.260.443.234.627.217.68.4
Sep91.144.54.121.8150.8115.995.183.973.658.440.6
Oct169.157.98.519.8246.4203.8177.3162.5148.6127.3100.3
Nov257.191.47.932.5379.0311.5269.6246.3224.4191.0149.0
Dec288.290.610.128.5408.8343.1301.9278.8256.9223.1179.9
Annual2298.6350.443.053.42757.52524.22370.32280.82193.62053.61862.5
Cotriguaçu Station
Month αβ Probability Levels
90%75%60%50%40%25%10%
Jan397.194.517.622.4522.0456.2413.8389.7366.5330.0281.8
Feb349.797.212.927.0478.7409.5365.5340.7317.0280.1232.2
Mar358.394.114.424.7483.0416.5374.1350.1327.1291.1244.2
Apr213.088.15.836.4330.9264.1223.4201.0180.2148.9110.7
May60.922.57.38.391.074.363.958.252.844.634.4
Jun11.514.40.618.129.715.89.26.34.11.80.4
Jul3.26.70.214.29.63.11.00.40.10.00.0
Aug24.323.21.022.254.833.722.717.413.07.63.0
Sep76.329.46.711.3115.693.680.072.565.554.941.8
Oct161.259.17.421.7240.1196.2169.1154.0139.9118.491.5
Nov277.3114.95.847.6431.0343.9290.8261.6234.5193.7144.0
Dec345.376.020.616.7445.7393.1359.2339.7321.0291.4252.1
Annual2278.6256.279.028.82612.52445.82334.42269.02204.82100.91957.0
Juína Station
Month αβProbability Levels
90%75%60%50%40%25%10%
Jan355.9100.612.528.4489.4417.7372.2346.5322.0283.9234.6
Feb311.783.713.822.5422.7363.4325.6304.2283.8251.9210.3
Mar297.9103.98.2136.2436.4359.9312.3285.8260.9222.8174.8
Apr196.191.74.542.9319.0247.9205.2182.0160.6129.091.4
May55.939.71.928.2109.075.356.546.838.326.714.7
Jun10.516.60.426.229.813.36.53.82.10.60.0
Jul6.714.90.233.220.36.11.80.70.20.00.0
Aug25.527.60.829.861.135.322.516.511.76.11.9
Sep80.047.62.828.3143.9105.182.670.860.245.028.2
Oct146.579.83.343.5253.6189.7152.2132.2114.187.957.9
Nov214.591.15.538.7336.5267.0224.8201.7180.3148.1109.1
Dec324.983.515.121.4435.5376.7339.2317.8297.4265.4223.5
Annual2026.6320.939.850.82447.22232.92091.72009.71929.91801.91627.7
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Silva, R.D.S.; Dallacort, R.; Maciel Junior, I.C.; Carvalho, M.A.C.D.; Yamashita, O.M.; Santana, D.C.; Teodoro, L.P.R.; Teodoro, P.E.; Silva Junior, C.A.d. Rainfall and Extreme Drought Detection: An Analysis for a Potential Agricultural Region in the Southern Brazilian Amazon. Sustainability 2024 , 16 , 5959. https://doi.org/10.3390/su16145959

Silva RDS, Dallacort R, Maciel Junior IC, Carvalho MACD, Yamashita OM, Santana DC, Teodoro LPR, Teodoro PE, Silva Junior CAd. Rainfall and Extreme Drought Detection: An Analysis for a Potential Agricultural Region in the Southern Brazilian Amazon. Sustainability . 2024; 16(14):5959. https://doi.org/10.3390/su16145959

Silva, Rogério De Souza, Rivanildo Dallacort, Ismael Cavalcante Maciel Junior, Marco Antonio Camillo De Carvalho, Oscar Mitsuo Yamashita, Dthenifer Cordeiro Santana, Larissa Pereira Ribeiro Teodoro, Paulo Eduardo Teodoro, and Carlos Antonio da Silva Junior. 2024. "Rainfall and Extreme Drought Detection: An Analysis for a Potential Agricultural Region in the Southern Brazilian Amazon" Sustainability 16, no. 14: 5959. https://doi.org/10.3390/su16145959

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Mongabay Series: Amazon Conservation

  • After historic 2023 drought, Amazon communities brace for more in Brazil
  • In the Brazilian Amazon, low river levels and insufficient rain might lead to 2024’s dry season being worse than 2023’s historic drought.
  • Amazonian states are already feeling early signs of the drought, although bolder actions are lacking.
  • Enduring water loss is an issue throughout the country, but it hits the Amazon and the Pantanal especially hard, as wildfires are breaking records.

Images of dozens of freshwater dolphin carcasses and cracked soil where once laid navigable rivers shocked the world in 2023, as the worst drought in history hit the Brazilian Amazon. Now, there is a chance that 2024’s pictures will be even worse, a report presented by the Civil Defense of the state of Amazonas suggests.

Despite rains that restored navigability and reconnected communities that had been left isolated by last year’s historical drought, rivers across the region are at lower levels now than they were during 2023’s already meager flood season. In early May, the Negro River reached 25.57 meters (83.89 feet), roughly 1.75 m (5.74 ft) and 3.75 m (12.3 ft) lower than the past three years. In June, the Madeira River saw levels recede 3 m (9.84 ft) in two weeks, reaching 4.15 m (13.6 ft) on the 19th, the lowest level in 2024.

So far, Amazonian states haven’t seen enough rain to indicate promising changes in this forecast. In Rio Branco, Acre’s state capital, for instance, it had rained 1.20 millimeters (0.04 inches) by the end of June — a concerningly small portion of the 60 mm (2.36 in) expected for the period.

Also in June, 82 cities across the country were under extreme drought and 735 in a state of severe drought, an escalation of 2023’s numbers for the same month (one city facing extreme drought and 44 facing a severe one).

National and international media have reported that this year’s drought will surpass 2023’s and arrive a month earlier than predicted. Meanwhile, Renato Senna, a researcher at the National Amazon Research Institute, said that last year’s event isn’t over yet.

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However, for Ayan Fleischmann, an environmental engineer and researcher at Mamirauá Sustainable Development Institute, a social organization funded and overseen by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, these claims are not accurate. “We don’t have enough elements to assert that the next drought will be extreme,” he told Mongabay.

Fleischmann expressed concerns about what he called “sensationalism” surrounding the topic, something, he said, was shared by other experts during an event that gathered professionals from both governmental and nongovernmental institutions on June 26 to assess the conditions of the main river basins in the Amazon region and outline a scenario for the coming drought.

Even though this has been a below-average flood season, he said, rivers have indeed seen increased levels that represent the end of the dry season, whose peak is four months away — too far away for any precise forecasts. To add even more uncertainty to the predictions, the La Niña phenomenon (when the waters off the Pacific coast are colder than usual) will be at play in South America, which tends to increase rainfall in the Amazon region, Fleischmann said — in 2023, El Niño, which typically causes the opposite effects, was in action. “There is a consensus among the [experts] community that it is still too soon to make any claims,” he said.

The Amazon is not a monolith, Fleischmann added. While the region known as the Arc of Deforestation has indeed seen increased droughts, the past decade witnessed six of the 10 worst floods in the Negro River’s recorded history. Earlier this year, around the same period extreme floods hit more than 100,000 residents of the state of Acre as communities in the state of Roraima struggled with wildfires .

Droughts and floods are part of a natural annual cycle of the Amazon’s hydrology, according to Patrícia Pinho, deputy science director at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “The problem we see now is in the increased range of the two extremes of this cycle,” Pinho told Mongabay.

“The droughts we have witnessed of late are dramatic, not only due to intensity but also to extension, as they are lasting longer every time. Because of climate change, events of a magnitude that used to take place once every hundred years are now unfolding every five years or so.”

Climate change also made the 2023 historic drought 30 times more likely , according to a new report from World Weather Attribution. The event threw the region into a state of emergency and affected more than half a million people.

Still, Fleischmann called for caution in communicating it. “The dynamics of the rivers dictate everyday life around here, and last year’s drought was traumatizing. So when you profess that this year’s will be worse, you don’t foster action. You merely create panic.”

case study on amazon rainforest

Early efforts

Last year’s drought dropped the economic output of Manaus’ industries by 16.6% . This season, Manaus’ companies feel they have no time to waste waiting for accurate predictions. The previous drought delayed the arrival of merchandise by 90 days and increased logistics costs by 300% .

As companies prepare for 60 days of limited navigability (twice the normal), Amazonas’ Federation of Commerce of Goods, Services and Tourism has been meeting with representatives of state and federal governments to address the next dry season. In June, the federal government announced 500 million reais (roughly $90 million) to be used in dredging sections of the Amazonas and Solimões rivers in an attempt to assure their navigability.

For some states, waiting is also not an option. In Rondônia, after the Madeira River’s levels dropped 3 m (9.8 feet) in two weeks, the state’s capital, Porto Velho, was officially declared to be in a state of alert on June 19. In Acre, following the floods in February, the Rio Branco River reached the lowest levels registered for May in the past five years, leading to the creation of a crisis office and the declaration of an environmental emergency in all 22 of the state’s municipalities. Meanwhile, the state of Amazonas has estimated that the 2024 drought will affect 150,000 families , and authorities have already advised people to stock water and food in preparation for possible extreme conditions.

Fleischmann recognized that governments were acting much sooner this year than in 2023, a signal that lessons have been learned. Yet, he argued that the actions were far from enough. “There is still a long way to go. We need more than just distributing food when the extreme event is already happening. What we need is prevention, and it has to be long-term.”

More than that, it is necessary to bridge what Pinho called the “adaptation gap.” “Brazil has been hiding behind the mitigation agenda, mostly through reducing deforestation in the Amazon, which is very important, of course, but not enough. We are still too far behind in our adaptation efforts,” she said.

“Even extreme events don’t become disasters if we are prepared,” Fleischmann said. However, that preparation is more challenging in the Amazon region than elsewhere. He said that communities in the region were used to two potential disasters every year. “As soon as an extreme drought is over, while still struggling with the effects, there’s the imminent danger of extreme floods. That barely leaves enough time to prepare.”

For local communities on the frontline, the consequences are “perverse and negative,” in Pinho’s words, as they entirely depend on very delicate river dynamics. Yet, these communities still find ways to get together and collectively work on solutions, especially faced with the absence of the state, she said. “At the same time, however, the burden falls heavily upon their shoulders.”

case study on amazon rainforest

A drier Amazon

Water loss has been an enduring issue in the Brazilian Amazon, according to a June study published by MapBiomas, a collaborative network that produces mapping of land cover and water coverage. Besides having the largest water surface in Brazil (62%), the biome has also lost the largest area of water coverage since 1985, the year the series started.

Across the country, the issue started to worsen in the year 2000 and has become critical in the past decade. In Roraima, the most affected state, flooded areas shrank by half over the past two decades.

Pinho said that, alongside the Arctic region, the Amazon Rainforest is one of the most sensitive biomes to rising temperatures and climate change.

There is an even more complex combination of reasons behind the drastic water loss. “There are three main factors: deforestation, forest degradation and the ongoing climate crisis,” Carlos Souza Jr., a researcher at the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon and one of the study’s authors, told Mongabay.

Souza said deforestation leads to temperature rise and local precipitation decline, leading to longer and drier summers in areas already deforested. Meanwhile, the impact on forest areas that, even standing, are facing degradation caused by environmental changes, decreases the forest’s resilience and increases its vulnerability to wildfires. “Finally, we have climate change, with large-scale effects, such as stronger and more frequent El Niños and the warming of Atlantic waters. All of that, combined, makes for a drier and more prone-to-burning Amazon,” he said.

In 2023, alongside the worst drought in history, the Amazon also saw fires increase by more than 35% , more than seven times the national increase of 6%. And the 2024 forecast is somber: So far, the Amazon has seen more than 60% more fires than in the first six months of 2023, the worst scenario in 20 years.

While the Amazon lost the largest flooded area, the neighboring Pantanal, one of the world’s largest wetlands, also has lost a high percentage of water surface. MapBiomas reported that the biome lost 29% of its flooded areas when comparing flood peaks between 1988 and 2018.

This year has also witnessed the worst wildfires in the region’s history , with more than 3,500 fires registered, roughly 50% more than 2020’s previous record of 2,534 fires. Almost all of them have been identified as caused by human action and found on private property. According to Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment and climate change minister, they are directly related to increased deforestation.

With the peak dry season in the Pantanal usually happening in September , 2024’s record-breaking wildfires might still reach more devastating levels.

Banner image: The state of Acre is facing severe drought as the effects of the 2023 El Niño extend. Image courtesy of Alexandre Cruz-Noronha/Sema.

Pantanal’s intense blazes stoke fears of another destructive fire season

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case study on amazon rainforest

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  1. Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest

    Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest The Amazon in context. Tropical rainforests are often considered to be the "cradles of biodiversity." Though they cover only about 6% of the Earth's land surface, they are home to over 50% of global biodiversity. Rainforests also take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen through ...

  2. Amazon Rainforest Deforestation: A Case Study of Rondônia

    The study examines the impact of deforestation on the health of the Amazon Rainforest in Rondônia by analysing land use changes from 1975 to 2024 using GIS software (LandSat Explorer, ArcGIS Online, ImageJ) and satellite images. The aim was to identify the main drivers of deforestation and assess the changes in Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI ...

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    Case Study: The Amazonian Road Decision. The proposed Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul will connect the Amazon's interior to urban centers and export markets in Peru and Brazil. However, critics are worried that the road will also create new opportunities for illegal logging and infringe on the territory of indigenous communities and wildlife.

  4. "We are killing this ecosystem": the scientists tracking the Amazon's

    In their 2016 study 2, Nobre and several colleagues estimated the Amazon would reach a tipping point if the planet warms by more than 2.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures and if 20-25% of ...

  5. Coolgeography

    Living World - Amazon Case Study The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth. It sits within the Amazon River basin, covers some 40% of the South American continent and as you can see on the map below includes parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname.

  6. Sustainable Management of the Amazon Rainforest

    Sustainable management ensures rainforests are worth. more than the value of the timber and other resources that can be extracted, such as gold. An example of this is sustainable foresty, which balances the removal of trees to sell with the conservation of the forest. Selective logging involves only removing a small number of trees, allowing ...

  7. Tropical rainforest case study

    Case study of a tropical rainforest setting to illustrate and analyse key themes in water and carbon cycles and their relationship to environmental change and human activity. Amazon Forest The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth. It sits within the Amazon River basin, covers some 40% of the South American continent and as you can ...

  8. How deregulation, drought and increasing fire impact Amazonian ...

    Since 2001, 103,079-189,755 km2 of Amazon rainforest has been impacted by fires, potentially impacting the ranges of 77.3-85.2% of species that are listed as threatened in this region5.

  9. Deforestation, warming flip part of Amazon forest from carbon sink to

    The study area, which represents about 20 percent of the Amazon basin, has lost 30 percent of its rainforest. New results from a nine-year research project in the eastern Amazon rainforest finds that significant deforestation in eastern and southeastern Brazil has been associated with a long-term decrease in rainfall and increase in temperature during the dry season, turning what was once a ...

  10. Amazon Deforestation and Climate Change

    The Amazon Rainforest is about the same size as the continental United States. One-fifth of the world's fresh water runs through it, and it is home to more species of animals and plants than anywhere on Earth. The Amazon represents more than half of the remaining rainforests on the planet. This forest is so vast, but it is not indestructible.

  11. Case Study: Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

    The Amazon rainforest area spans about 8,200,000km 2 across 9 countries, making it the largest rainforest in the world. The tree coverage in 1970 was 4.1m km 2 . In 2018, it was 3.3m km 2 . Between 2001 and 2013, the causes of Amazonian deforestation were:

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    Amazon Deforestation: A Regional Conservation Case Study. GIS analysis of select strictly protected areas supported by the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program (ARPA)

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    The study area is defined by the Amazon biogeographic limit (RAISG 2020). The Amazon rainforest comprises different climate zones. According to Köppen-Geiger's classification, the northwest is characterized by a tropical rainforest climate (Af) and monsoon climate (Am). ... (1990-2010 in the case of Gloor et al. 2015), ...

  14. AQA A level geography (AMAZON RAINFOREST CASE STUDY)

    Carbon sink. How much carbon did the rainforest use to absorb before 1990s? 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2. How much did carbon did the rainforest absorb in 2015? only 1 billion. The rainforest is at risk of becoming a what? A carbon source. How much has tree biomass increased? By 0.3-0.5%.

  15. Amazon's record drought driven by climate change

    It was the main driver of the Amazon rainforest's worst drought in at least half a century, according to a new study. Often described as the "lungs of the planet", the Amazon plays a key role in ...

  16. Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest

    73 Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest The Amazon in context. Tropical rainforests are often considered to be the "cradles of biodiversity." Though they cover only about 6% of the Earth's land surface, they are home to over 50% of global biodiversity. Rain forests also take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen through ...

  17. To Save the Amazon, What if We Listened to Those Living Within It?

    The march marked the opening of a four-day gathering known as the Pan-Amazon Social Forum (FOSPA), a semi-annual incubator where activists and leaders from Indigenous, Afro-descendant and other ...

  18. case study- Amazon rainforest Flashcards

    why does the Amazon receive so much rainfall? - it is located near the equator which means it receives lots of solar radiation. - this heats the air, which then rises during evapotranspiration. - it then cools and condenses to form rainfall. - because it is constantly warm, this cycle of evapotranspiration etc continues annually so there is a ...

  19. Amazon Rainforest case study Flashcards

    high humidity = high rates of decomposition. human impacts in amazon rainforest. deforestation and farming. deforestation impacts on rainforest. 17,500sq.km/yr from 1970-2013 > peak in 2004 and declining since. decreased interception store > decreased evapotranspiration > decreased precipitation. increased run-off volume and speed (increased by ...

  20. Environmental Conservation in Amazon Rainforest: Case Study &

    Title: Case Study on Environmental Conservation Efforts in the Amazon Rainforest Introduction: The Amazon Rainforest is a vital ecosystem facing numerous threats. This case study explores various environmental conservation efforts aimed at protecting the Amazon and its biodiversity. Body: 1. Deforestation and Its Impact - Causes of deforestation: logging, agriculture, and infrastructure ...

  21. Amazon Rainforest Case Study Flashcards

    The rest is continually recycled. ~ The Amazon River discharges around 15% of all fresh water entering the oceans globally. Describe the carbon cycle in the Amazon Rainforest. ~ The Amazon Basin stores one-fifth (20%) of all carbon in the Earth's biosphere. ~ The gratest store of carbon is in the soil with the next lagest being the biomass.

  22. Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest

    Case Study: The Amazon Rainforest The Amazon in context. Tropical rainforests are often considered to be the "cradles of biodiversity." Though they cover only about 6% of the Earth's land surface, they are home to over 50% of global biodiversity. Rainforests also take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen through ...

  23. Sustainability

    This study aimed to define the behavior of the variability in monthly and annual rainfall and its probability of monthly occurrence and calculate the drought index for the northwestern region of Mato Grosso, in the southern region of the Brazilian Amazon. To carry out the study, daily rainfall records were collected, calculating the totals for ...

  24. Case study: The Amazon Rainforest Flashcards

    27 degrees Celsius temperature. Continuous rainfall. What is the water cycle like in the Amazon Rainforest? High levels of precipitation - most of the rainfall never reaches the ground because it is quickly intercepted by the trees and evaporated or transpired. Direct evaporation from the rivers. What % of water makes it to the sea? Only 30%.

  25. After historic 2023 drought, Amazon communities brace for more in Brazil

    Environmental science and conservation news. In the Brazilian Amazon, low river levels and insufficient rain might lead to 2024's dry season being worse than 2023's historic drought.

  26. Case Study

    Case Study - Tropical Rainforest: The Amazon Rainforest. Background information. Click the card to flip 👆. - Largest tropical rainforest on Earth. - It sits within the Amazon River basin, covering around 40% of South America - including 8 SA countries. - Covers 2.1 million square miles of land - The UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times.