Monday, December 21, 2009

Amazon Losing "Flying Rivers", Ability to Curb Warming

Alarming news comes via National Geographic about the Amazon's diminishing ability to both store the heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) and generate rainfall critical to Brazil's agriculture and economy.

Rising temperatures in the Amazon region, in large part due to climate change, are creating more arid savannas, which disrupt the water cycle vital to Brazil's farming and energy industries.

Deforestation also plays a role. As more of Brazil's rain forests fall to logging and agriculture, there are fewer trees to release the water vapor that creates these flying rivers.

Until recently, Amazon forest loss has been primarily linked to the trees' role in trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which are a root cause of global warming.

"Most people look at the Amazon as the lungs of the world, or as a solution to capture CO2," said GĂ©rard Moss, an engineer and founder of the Flying Rivers Project, an ongoing effort to document the humid air currents and their effects.

"But I'd like people to realize that the Amazon Basin is a huge water pump—rain is [our] most valuable asset," he said by phone Wednesday in Copenhagen, where he gave a press briefing on the project earlier this week.

Flying rivers may transport as much water as the Amazon River itself, he added. "This huge rain machine needs to be preserved."

I often say that the next major market for ecosystem services like carbon is going to be water -- paying people to protect forests and other habitats to protect water.  This article paints a clear picture of the connection between our forests and our increasingly scarce fresh water resources:

More than half of the Amazon's rainfall emanates from trees, with the rest coming from vapor from surface water bodies.

"So if the trees are chopped down, the rainfall rates could be reduced through this mechanism," Muri said by email.

Any changes in vegetation can impact the local "water budget" and create drought conditions that impact agriculture and industry, she added.

Brazil's economy may wither if the flying rivers dry out, project founder Moss said.

Farmers in the Amazon's fertile Matto Grosso state are highly dependent on Amazon rain to grow their crops, for example. The agriculture industry in the region is extremely profitable because so little irrigation is needed.

"Rainwater has been taken for granted ... ," Moss said.

"In addition, 80 percent of Brazil's energy is related to hydroelectric power, so every single drop of rain counts," Moss said. "If we start losing rain, it will have a huge impact [on our energy]."

Pretty amazing.  This article doesn't even get into the subject of how Amazon rainfall patterns influence weather in America's farmlands -- but there is a connection...

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