Staying current for Chapter 5
Canopy in the Clouds – A project that uses immersive multimedia from the tropical montane cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica as a platform for earth and life science education. Includes 26 lessons on topics ranging from science process skills to soil science to ecology.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Nature’s Voice Online.
2023-11-14. The Amazon’s record-setting drought: how bad will it be? [https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-03469-6?et_rid=40179168&et_cid=4985621] By Meghie Rodrigues, Nature. Excerpt: Last month, a portion of the Negro River in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil, shrank to a depth of just 12.70 metres — its lowest level in 120 years, when measurements began. In Lake Tefé, about 500 kilometres west, more than 150 river dolphins were found dead, not because of low water levels, but probably because the lake had reached temperatures close to 40 °C. These are symptoms of the unprecedented drought gripping the Amazon rainforest this year. Climate change is involved. But researchers who study the rainforest say other factors have come together to exacerbate this crisis, …. The drought is the sum of three things, says Luciana Gatti, a climate-change researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) in São José dos Campos. The first is deforestation. …the second factor contributing to the drought: an El Niño climate pattern…. The third factor responsible for the Amazon’s severe drought is an unusual warming of the water in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Climate change is contributing to this anomaly….
2023-11-02. AMAZON OBSERVATORY. [https://www.science.org/content/article/peru-20-year-study-charted-amazon-forests-revealed-warming-changed] By BARBARA FRASER, Science. Excerpt: PILLCOPATA, PERU—Twenty years ago, a dozen Peruvian biology undergraduates armed with machetes and tape measures laboriously cleared a trail down the steep eastern flank of the Andes Mountains near this sleepy Amazonian town. They staked out eight study plots along a 15-kilometer-long transect that stretched from the grasslands found near the relatively cool, treeless top of a 4020-meter-high mountain known as Apu Kañajhuay down the fog-shrouded Kosñipata Valley to the warmer forests below, which are soaked by as much as 5 meters of rain a year. Along the transect lies some of the world’s richest biodiversity. Now, those 1-hectare plots in and near Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve are the centerpiece of one of the longest running field studies of how an Amazon forest is responding to climate change. The effort, known as the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (ABERG), involves researchers from around the world. It has produced thousands of data points and scores of publications that have offered new insights into how warming and drying are reshuffling tropical ecosystems. …many of the students who helped hack out the original study plots went on to earn doctorates and academic posts and are now helping train a new generation of Peruvian scientists. The initiative became a “cradle of biologists,” says William Farfán-Ríos, a Peruvian ecologist at Wake Forest University (WFU) who was one of those machete-wielding students….
2023-10-16. Amazon River falls to lowest in over a century amid Brazil drought. [https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/amazon-rainforest-port-records-lowest-water-level-121-years-amid-drought-2023-10-16/] By Bruno Kelly and Jake Spring, Reuters. Excerpt: Rapidly drying tributaries to the mighty Amazon have left boats stranded, cutting off food and water supplies to remote villages, while high water temperatures are suspected of killing more than 100 endangered river dolphins. …The port of Manaus …recorded 13.59 meters (44.6 ft) of water on Monday compared to 17.60 a year ago, according to its website. That is the lowest level since records began in 1902, passing a previous all-time low set in 2010. …Some areas of the Amazon have seen the least rain from July to September since 1980, according to the Brazilian government disaster alert center, Cemaden. …Brazil’s Science Ministry blames the drought on this year’s onset of the El Nino climate phenomenon, which is driving extreme weather patterns globally. In a statement earlier this month, the ministry said it expects the drought will last until at least December, when El Nino’s effects are forecast to peak….
2023-10-03. Tree-planting schemes threaten tropical biodiversity, ecologists say. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/oct/03/carbon-tree-planting-schemes-threaten-tropical-biodiversity-aoe] By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian. Excerpt: Monoculture tree-planting schemes are threatening tropical biodiversity while only offering modest climate benefit, ecologists have said, warning that ecosystems like the Amazon and Congo basin are being reduced to their carbon value. Amid a boom in the planting of single-species plantations to capture carbon, scientists have urged governments to prioritise the conservation and restoration of native forests over commercial monocultures, and cautioned that planting swathes of non-native trees in tropical regions threatens important flora and fauna for a negligible climate impact. Writing in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, ecologists said the increasing popularity of commercial pine, eucalyptus and teak plantations in the tropics for carbon offsetting is having unintended consequences, such as drying out native ecosystems, acidifying soils, crowding out native plants and turbocharging wildfires. “Despite the broad range of ecosystem functions and services provided by tropical ecosystems, society has reduced the value of these ecosystems to just one metric – carbon,” the paper reads. “It is broadly assumed that maximising standing carbon stocks also benefits biodiversity, ecosystem function and enhances socioeconomic co-benefits – yet this is often not the case.”…
2023-08-08. Amazon Countries, Led by Brazil, Sign a Rainforest Pact. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/08/climate/amazon-rainforest-belem-protections.html] By Manuela Andreoni and Max Bearak, The New York Times. Excerpt: On Tuesday, the leaders of eight countries that are home to the Amazon River basin agreed to work together to conserve the world’s largest rainforest at a groundbreaking meeting convened by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. The agreement, called the Belém Declaration, for the Brazilian city where the meeting was held, provides a road map to stave off the rampant deforestation, caused in large part by industrial agriculture and land-grabbing, that has severely damaged the rainforest and has major implications for Earth’s climate. The meeting was also expected to yield a separate agreement on Wednesday among other nations with major rainforests — including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Indonesia — to more closely coordinate protecting the ecosystems globally. The Amazon rainforest is not only a haven of biodiversity but also plays an important role in the fight against climate change because it pulls huge amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stores it away. Over the past half-century, around 17 percent of the forest has been razed and an even bigger share is severely degraded….
2023-01-26. Human activity and drought ‘degrading more than a third of Amazon rainforest’. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/26/human-activity-and-drought-degrading-more-than-a-third-of-amazon-rainforest] By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian. Excerpt: Human activity and drought may have degraded more than a third of the Amazon rainforest, double the previous estimate, according to a study that heightens concerns that the globally important ecosystem is slipping towards a point of no return. Fires, land conversion, logging and water shortages, have weakened the resilience of up to 2.5m sq km of the forest, …. This area is now drier, more flammable and more vulnerable than before, prompting the authors to warn of “megafires” in the future. Between 5.5% and 38% of what is left of the world’s biggest tropical forest is also less able to regulate the climate, generate rainfall, store carbon, provide a habitat to other species, offer a livelihood to local people, and sustain itself as a viable ecosystem, the paper observes. …The findings, published in Science on Thursday, are based on a review of existing studies, recent satellite data, and a new assessment of drought impacts by an international team of 35 scientists and researchers, from institutions including Brazil’s University of Campinas (Unicamp), the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and the UK’s Lancaster University. …Deforestation is the total clearance of forest and conversion of the land to other uses, which can be easily identified by satellites. Degradation, on the other hand, is the partial loss of vegetation due to human behaviour, which is often hidden because it takes place under the canopy of bigger trees. To the naked eye, the distinction is as great as that between having your hair shaved off completely and thinned. …The paper says the quantities of carbon released from degradation could even be higher than those from deforestation….
2023-01-18. Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest provider are worthless, analysis shows. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/18/revealed-forest-carbon-offsets-biggest-provider-worthless-verra-aoe] By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian. Excerpt: The forest carbon offsets approved by the world’s leading provider and used by Disney, Shell, Gucci and other big corporations are largely worthless and could make global heating worse, according to a new investigation. The research into Verra, the world’s leading carbon standard for the rapidly growing $2bn (£1.6bn) voluntary offsets market, has found that, based on analysis of a significant percentage of the projects, more than 90% of their rainforest offset credits – among the most commonly used by companies – are likely to be “phantom credits” and do not represent genuine carbon reductions….
2023-01-14. Ecuador Tried to Curb Drilling and Protect the Amazon. The Opposite Happened.. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/14/climate/ecuador-drilling-oil-amazon.html] By Catrin Einhorn and Manuela Andreoni, The New york Times. Excerpt: YASUNÍ NATIONAL PARK, Ecuador — In a swath of lush Amazon rainforest here, near some of the last Indigenous people on Earth living in isolation, workers recently finished building a new oil platform carved out of the wilderness. Teams are drilling in one of the most environmentally important ecosystems on the planet, one that stores vast amounts of planet-warming carbon. …some of the country’s largest oil reserves are found here, too. Ecuador is cash-strapped and struggling with debt. The government sees drilling as its best way out. The story of this place, Yasuní National Park, offers a case study on how global financial forces continue to trap developing countries into depleting some of the most biodiverse places on the planet….
2023-01-04. Has the Amazon Reached Its ‘Tipping Point’? [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/04/magazine/amazon-tipping-point.html] By Alex Cuadros, The New York Times. Excerpt: …In a healthy rainforest, the concentration of carbon should decline as you approach the canopy from above, because trees are drawing the element out of the atmosphere and turning it into wood through photosynthesis. In 2010, when Gatti started running two flights a month at each of four different spots in the Brazilian Amazon, she expected to confirm this. But her samples showed the opposite: At lower altitudes, the ratio of carbon increased. This suggested that emissions from the slashing and burning of trees — the preferred method for clearing fields in the Amazon — were actually exceeding the forest’s capacity to absorb carbon. At first Gatti was sure it was an anomaly caused by a passing drought. But the trend not only persisted into wetter years; it intensified. …When Gatti published her findings in Nature in 2021, it sparked panicked headlines across the world: The lungs of the earth are exhaling greenhouse gases. But her discovery was actually much more alarming than that. Because burning trees release a high proportion of carbon monoxide, she could separate these emissions from the total. And in the southeastern Amazon, air samples still showed net emissions, suggesting that the ecosystem itself could be releasing more carbon than it absorbed, thanks in part to decomposing plant matter — or in Gatti’s words, “effectively dying more than growing.” …Across the Amazon, more forests ultimately burned than in the largest California wildfires in history, putting half a billion tons of carbon back into the atmosphere — the equivalent of more than one year of emissions by Mexico. …the ecosystem is losing its natural resilience, entering an alternate feedback loop. In Gatti’s samples, the 2015-16 drought also marked the moment when, as she put it to me, “the southeastern Amazon went to pot,” and the forest itself started consistently releasing more carbon than it absorbed. Fire does more than destroy trees. It also accelerates the transformations predicted by Nobre’s tipping-point theory….
2022-11-03. Can a Nation Replace Its Oil Wealth With Trees? [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/03/climate/gabon-logging-oil-economy.html] By Dionne Searcey, The New York Times. Excerpt: LOANGO NATIONAL PARK, Gabon — Evening and the rainforest. A riverbank packed with elephants. Treetops so dense they obscure all but a chimpanzee’s hairy arm. And, as the sun sets, a twinkle on the horizon: an offshore oil platform. The nation of Gabon is so lush with forests and wildlife its nickname is Africa’s Eden. It’s also one of the continent’s major oil producers. Gabon for decades has relied on petroleum to drive its economy. But officials know their oil won’t last forever. So they’ve turned to Gabon’s other abundant resource — a huge Congo Basin rainforest, full of valuable trees — to help make up the difference once the oil is gone. Gabon is engaging in activities that have become dirty words in the world of climate activism: It allows palm-oil plantations in certain areas and is turning rainforest into plywood. However, unlike Brazil and other countries that have stood by as rainforests are decimated, Gabon has adopted strict rules designed to keep the vast majority of its trees standing. Its aim is to strike an important balance between the needs of a single nation and those of a world facing a climate crisis. Gabon has banned raw timber exports (France was a major buyer) and created an industrial complex with tax breaks to attract furniture companies, plywood makers and others to build factories and create jobs. Rules limit logging to just two trees per hectare every 25 years. And, to fight illegal logging, a new program tracks logs with bar codes. Gabon’s approach appears to be working, and other countries are already copying aspects of its plan, making it a potential blueprint for rainforest protection.…
2022-10-11. Amazon Basin Tree Rings Hold a Record of the Region’s Rainfall. [https://eos.org/research-spotlights/amazon-basin-tree-rings-hold-a-record-of-the-regions-rainfall] By Rachel Fritts, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The Amazon basin contains the world’s largest rain forest, famous for its rich biodiversity and importance in the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles. It also has an outsized influence on water cycles in South America and beyond. Understanding how climate change is affecting Amazon hydrology is thus a key priority for climate researchers. However, modern measurements of the region’s annual rainfall don’t provide the historical context needed to explain a recent uptick in wet season precipitation. Baker et al. use more than 200 years of oxygen isotope data from tree rings as a window into the region’s hydrological past. Oxygen isotopes can serve as a proxy for historic rainfall amounts because heavier isotopes are more likely to get flushed out of the atmosphere in precipitation in years of greater rainfall. That means rings formed in years with less rainfall should have a higher proportion of heavy oxygen isotopes compared to wetter years.…
2022-07-24. Congo to Auction Land to Oil Companies: ‘Our Priority Is Not to Save the Planet’. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/24/world/africa/congo-oil-gas-auction.html] By Ruth Maclean and Dionne Searcey, The New York Times. Excerpt: DAKAR, Senegal — The Democratic Republic of Congo, home to one of the largest old-growth rainforests on earth, is auctioning off vast amounts of land in a push to become “the new destination for oil investments,” part of a global shift as the world retreats on fighting climate change in a scramble for fossil fuels. The oil and gas blocks, which will be auctioned in late July, extend into Virunga National Park, the world’s most important gorilla sanctuary, as well as tropical peatlands that store vast amounts of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere and from contributing to global warming. “If oil exploitation takes place in these areas, we must expect a global climate catastrophe, and we will all just have to watch helplessly,” said Irene Wabiwa, who oversees the Congo Basin forest campaign for Greenpeace in Kinshasa. …said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the nation’s lead representative on climate issues and an adviser to the minister of hydrocarbons …Congo’s sole goal for the auction… is to earn enough revenue to help the struggling nation finance programs to reduce poverty and generate badly needed economic growth. “That’s our priority,” Mr. Mpanu said, in an interview last week. “Our priority is not to save the planet.”.…
2022-07-20. ‘In 10 years, we might not have forests’: DRC struggles to halt charcoal trade – a photo essay. [https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jul/20/in-10-years-we-might-not-have-forests-drc-struggles-to-halt-charcoal-trade-a-photo-essay] By Ed Ram, The Guardian. Excerpt: …The rainforest of the Congo River basin covers 178m hectares (440m acres) across six countries. It absorbs about 4% of global annual carbon emissions, sustains rainfall as far away as Egypt, and is home to 80 million people – and a vast spectrum of rare animals, insects and flora. Its preservation is deemed key in the fight against global heating. But DRC has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, losing 490,000 hectares (1.2m acres) of primary rainforest in 2020, according to Global Forest Watch. Unlike in the Amazon, where industrial-scale logging is mostly responsible, in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] small-scale charcoal production and slash and burn agriculture drive deforestation; about 90% of forest loss between 2000 and 2014 was due to smallholder agriculture, according to a 2018 report in Science Advances.…
2022-05-12. The swift march of climate change in North Carolina’s ‘ghost forests’. By Brady Dennis, The Washington Post. Excerpt: …Few examples of climate change are as unmistakable and arresting as the “ghost forests” proliferating along parts of the East Coast — and particularly throughout the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula of North Carolina. Places where Lanier once stood on dry ground are now in waist-deep water. Forests populated by towering pines, red maple, sweet gum and bald cypress have transitioned to shrub land. Stretches of shrub habitat have given way to marsh. And what once was marsh has succumbed to the encroaching sea. … As sea levels rise, droughts deepen and storms become more intense, saltier water makes its way into these woodlands more readily from surrounding water bodies, as well as deeper into the sprawling network of drainage ditches and irrigation canals created long ago to support the expansion of agriculture. Persistently wet conditions can weaken existing trees. And episodes of saltwater intrusion can push already stressed forests to the breaking point, poisoning the freshwater on which they depend and hastening the death of trees not only at the water’s edge, but in some cases far inland. The result are expanses of dead or dying trees, known as “snags,” that stand as grim monuments to a shifting ecosystem.“This has happened over and over before in geologic time,” says Marcelo Ardón, an ecologist at North Carolina State University. “But now it is happening faster.”.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/05/12/ghost-forests-carolina-climate-change/]
2022-04-29. How Americans’ love of beef is helping destroy the Amazon rainforest. By Terrence McCoy and Júlia Ledur, The Washington Post. Excerpt: The pattern is clear: First, the forest is razed. Then the cattle are moved in. If the Amazon is to die, it will be beef that kills it. And America will be an accomplice. Cattle ranching, responsible for the great majority of deforestation in the Amazon, is pushing the forest to the edge of what scientists warn could be a vast and irreversible dieback that claims much of the biome. Despite agreement that change is necessaryto avert disaster, despite attempts at reform, despite the resources of Brazil’s federal government and powerful beef companies, the destructioncontinues. …the United States has grown to become its second-biggest buyer. The country bought more than 320 million pounds of Brazilian beef last year — and is on pace to purchase nearly twice as much this year. …JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, has repeatedly been accused by environmentalists of buying cattle raised on illegally deforested land.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/amazon-beef-deforestation-brazil/]
2022-03-07. Amazon Is Less Able to Recover From Droughts and Logging, Study Finds. By Henry Fountain, The New York Times. Excerpt: The Amazon is losing its ability to recover from disturbances like droughts and land-use changes, scientists reported Monday, adding to concern that the rainforest is approaching a critical threshold beyond which much of it will be replaced by grassland, with vast consequences for biodiversity and climate change. The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached. “But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England. Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide getting put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.… [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/climate/amazon-rainforest-climate-change-deforestation.html]
2022-01-28. Illegal gold mines flood Amazon forests with toxic mercury. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: …the forest is hiding a toxic secret: It is tainted by mercury at levels as high as those found in industrial regions in China, according to new research. The mercury is the product of hundreds of illegal, small-scale gold mines, and is leaving its poisonous fingerprint in forest wildlife. “These forests … are receiving an enormous load of mercury, and the mercury is indeed entering into the food web,” says biogeochemist Jackie Gerson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the research as a Ph.D. student at Duke University. The new study, the first to describe such effects anywhere in the world, is another strand in the growing web of evidence that connects mining to mercury pollution in rivers, fish, and forests. Gold mining has recently outstripped coal burning as the world’s single largest source of airborne mercury pollution, annually releasing as much as 1000 tons of the potent brain and reproductive poison into the atmosphere. Using mercury to extract gold is a miner’s dream: The cheap, liquid metal, when mixed with a slurry of water and raw ore, binds with the precious gold. Miners then heat the globs of mercury and gold until the mercury burns off, floating away as a vapor.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/illegal-gold-mines-flood-amazon-forests-toxic-mercury] See also New York Times article, Alarming Levels of Mercury Are Found in Old Growth Amazon Forest.
2021-12-09. Tropical forests can recover from deforestation remarkably fast and on their own, new study finds. By Tik Root, The Washington Post. Excerpt: The study observed that soil fertility on previously deforested land can return in less than a decade. But that doesn’t give people a ‘license to kill,’ an author of the study said. …Deforestation is a global and accelerating threat. But new research shows that tropical forests can recover naturally and remarkably quickly on abandoned lands. The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that under low-intensity use, soil on previously deforested land can recover its fertility in less than a decade. Characteristics such as the layering of plants and trees in a forest, as well as species diversity, came back in about 25 to 60 years.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2021/12/09/climate-change-forest-recovery-deforestation/]
2021-11-12. Traditional Knowledge Is Essential to Sustainability in the Amazon. By Meghie Rodrigues, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: At COP26, the Science Panel for the Amazon is emphasizing the need for Indigenous and Local Knowledge to inform scientific and policy recommendations.…“Local peoples know a lot about ecosystem dynamics and are attentive to details that we as [outside] researchers might overlook at times,” said Carolina Doria, a biologist at the Federal University of Rondônia in Brazil and a member of the Science Panel for the Amazon. “Because of that, any attempt to impose top-down approaches to conservation can be counterproductive. The best [methodology] is to listen to the communities and find common ground for plausible actions from different perspectives,” she added.… [https://eos.org/articles/traditional-knowledge-is-essential-to-sustainability-in-the-amazon]
2021-08-27. Amazon Deforestation and Fires are a Hazard to Public Health. Source: By Elizabeth Thompson, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Deforestation in the Amazon has dropped since the early 2000s, but it is slowly climbing again. A new study shows the impact of that climb on public health—and how much worse conditions could be.… [https://eos.org/research-spotlights/amazon-deforestation-and-fires-are-a-hazard-to-public-health]
2021-07-14. [https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/climate/amazon-rainforest-carbon.html] – Parts of the Amazon Go From Absorbing Carbon Dioxide to Emitting It. Source: By John Schwartz, The New York Times Excerpt: Portions of the Amazon rainforest are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb — a troubling sign for the fight against climate change, a new study suggests …published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Deforestation and an accelerating warming trend have contributed to change in the carbon balance, which is most severe in the southeastern region of the Amazon, where there are both rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in the dry season. The most affected regions have warmed by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry season in the last 40 years, comparable to the changes seen in the rapidly-warming Arctic….
2021-03-31. Global forest losses accelerated despite the pandemic, threatening world’s climate goals. By Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis, and John Muyskens, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Loss of vital forests in the tropics increased by 12 percent between 2019 and 2020, a satellite-based survey found. …The Earth saw nearly 100,000 square miles of lost tree cover last year — an area roughly the size of Colorado — according to the satellite-based survey by Global Forest Watch. The change represents nearly 7 percent more trees lost than in 2019. …Brazil, which is home to much of the sprawling Amazon rainforest, saw the most tropical forest disappear, largely because of wildfires and the clearing of land, much of it illegally. The nation lost a swath of old-growth forest in 2020 larger than the state of Connecticut…. [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/03/31/climate-change-deforestation/]
2021-02-26. Brazil’s first homemade satellite will put an extra eye on dwindling Amazon forests. By Sofia Moutinho. Science Magazine. Excerpt: The fate of Brazil’s satellite program—and the country’s capacity to monitor disappearing Amazon forest—will be decided in 17 minutes and 30 seconds on Sunday. That’s the time it will take to launch Amazonia-1, the first satellite entirely developed by the country. If the mission goes well, Brazil will join about 20 countries that have managed the whole chain of design, production, and operation of a satellite. Amazonia-1 will give researchers more frequent updates on deforestation and agricultural activity in the world’s largest tropical rainforest. But other challenges await, as Brazilian scientists deal with increasing cuts in research funding and a political split on the country’s space program…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/brazil-s-first-homemade-satellite-will-put-extra-eye-dwindling-amazon-forests]
2020-10-13. The World’s Largest Tropical Wetland Has Become an Inferno. By Catrin Einhorn, Maria Magdalena Arréllaga, Blacki Migliozzi and Scott Reinhard, The New York times. Excerpt: This year, roughly a quarter of the vast Pantanal wetland in Brazil, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, has burned in wildfires worsened by climate change. What happens to a rich and unique biome when so much is destroyed?…For centuries, ranchers have used fire to clear fields and new land. But this year, drought worsened by climate change turned the wetlands into a tinderbox and the fires raged out of control…. [https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/13/climate/pantanal-brazil-fires.html]
2020-09-25. ‘Apocalyptic’ fires are ravaging the world’s largest tropical wetland. By Emiliano Rodríguez Mega, Nature Magazine. Excerpt: Infernos in South America’s Pantanal region have burnt twice the area of California’s fires this year. Researchers fear the rare ecosystem will never recover. …Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, home to Indigenous peoples and a high concentration of rare or endangered species, such as jaguars and giant armadillos. Small fires occur every year in the region, which sprawls over parts of western Brazil and extends into Bolivia and Paraguay. But 2020’s fires have been unprecedented in extent and duration, researchers say. So far, 22% of the vast floodplain — around 3.2 million hectares (see ‘Biodiversity Hotspot Under Threat’) — has succumbed to the flames, according to Renata Libonati, a remote-sensing specialist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, whose data are being used by firefighters to plan containment. That’s more than twice the area that has burnt in the record-breaking fires in California this year. …What worries scientists further is that this year’s fire season might not be an isolated incident. Climate modelling suggests that the Pantanal could become hotter and drier, with a rise in temperature of up to 7 ºC by the end of the century1. … [https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02716-4]
2020-09-03. Restored Tropical Forests Recover Faster Than Those Left Alone. By Mohammed El-Said, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Actively restored forests recover aboveground biomass faster than areas left to regenerate naturally after being logged. According to a new study on tropical forests in Sabah, Malaysia, areas that have undergone active restoration recovered 50% faster, from 2.9 to 4.4 metric tons of aboveground carbon per hectare per year. The findings suggest that the reduction in carbon associated with a single logging event would be recovered to the same level as unlogged forest after 40 years with active restoration, as opposed to about 60 years if the forest were left to regenerate naturally. …In addition to demonstrating the value in protecting previously logged forests, the study engages with the efficacy of carbon pricing, said coauthor Mark Cutler, professor of geography and environmental science at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Cutler explained that “the costs associated with the most intensive forms of active restoration, if to be recovered through the voluntary carbon market, require a higher carbon price than has been seen in recent times.”…. [https://eos.org/articles/restored-tropical-forests-recover-faster-than-those-left-alone]
2020-08-05. Illegal deforestation in Brazil soars amid climate of impunity. By Herton Escobar, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen sharply in the past year—again. Estimates set to be released this week by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) will show clearings have increased by at least 28% during the current monitoring year, which runs from August through July, compared with the previous year. It is the second steep hike under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has made good on his campaign promise to loosen environmental law enforcement and step up development in the Amazon…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/illegal-deforestation-brazil-soars-amid-climate-impunity]
2020-06-18. A controversial Russian theory claims forests don’t just make rain—they make wind. By Fred Pearce, Science Magazine. Excerpt: …For more than a decade, [Anastassia] Makarieva has championed a theory, developed with Victor Gorshkov, her mentor and colleague at the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (PNPI), on how Russia’s boreal forests, the largest expanse of trees on Earth, regulate the climate of northern Asia. …water vapor exhaled by trees drives winds: winds that cross the continent, taking moist air from Europe, through Siberia, and on into Mongolia and China; winds that deliver rains that keep the giant rivers of eastern Siberia flowing; winds that water China’s northern plain, the breadbasket of the most populous nation on Earth. With their ability to soak up carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, the world’s great forests are often referred to as the planet’s lungs. But Makarieva and Gorshkov …say they are its beating heart, too. “Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth,” Makarieva says. They recycle vast amounts of moisture into the air and, in the process, also whip up winds that pump that water around the world. The first part of that idea—forests as rainmakers—…is increasingly appreciated by water resource managers in a world of rampant deforestation. But the second part, a theory Makarieva calls the biotic pump, is far more controversial. …the idea could help explain why, despite their distance from the oceans, the remote interiors of forested continents receive as much rain as the coasts—and why the interiors of unforested continents tend to be arid. It also implies that forests from the Russian taiga to the Amazon rainforest don’t just grow where the weather is right. They also make the weather…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/controversial-russian-theory-claims-forests-don-t-just-make-rain-they-make-wind]
2020-06-02. ‘Going in the Wrong Direction’: More Tropical Forest Loss in 2019. By Henry Fountain. Excerpt: Brazil was responsible for more than a third of the total global loss in 2019. [Images: Deforestation between 2001–2019 in Alto Paraiso, Brazil. (Source: World Resources Institute)] Destruction of tropical forests worldwide increased last year, led again by Brazil, which was responsible for more than a third of the total, and where deforestation of the Amazon through clear-cutting appears to be on the rise under the pro-development policies of the country’s president. The worldwide total loss of old-growth, or primary, tropical forest — 9.3 million acres, an area nearly the size of Switzerland — was about 3 percent higher than 2018 and the third largest since 2002. Only 2016 and 2017 were worse, when heat and drought led to record fires and deforestation, especially in Brazil…. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/climate/deforestation-climate-change.html]
2020-05-21. Tropical forests soak up huge amounts of greenhouse gas. Climate change could end that. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Tropical forests have been one of Earth’s best defenses against rising carbon dioxide levels. The trees suck carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, and researchers estimate that, despite ongoing deforestation, tropical forests hold more carbon than humanity has emitted over the past 30 years by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. But scientists have worried that the ability of tropical forests to act as carbon sinks will diminish and ultimately reverse with continued global warming, as trees stressed by heat and drought die and release their carbon. Today in Science [https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6493/869], researchers report that measurements of carbon storage and growing conditions for some 500,000 trees around the world suggest some tropical forests, particularly in Africa and Asia, will—if left intact—continue to sequester large amounts of carbon even as global temperatures rise. But only up to a point. “There are certain levels where forests can’t respond,” says William Anderegg, a forest ecologist at the University of Utah. If warming reaches 2°C above preindustrial levels, the study finds huge swaths of the world’s tropical forests will begin to lose more carbon than they accumulate. Already, the hottest forests in South America have reached that point…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/tropical-forests-soak-huge-amounts-greenhouse-gas-climate-change-could-end]
2020-03-09. Tropical Forests Are Losing Their Ability to Soak Up Carbon. By Jenessa Duncombe, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The towering stands of old-growth trees in Africa’s Salonga National Park in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the most pristine and protected rain forests on the continent. But these trees are slowly sequestering less and less carbon each year, according to a new study in Nature [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2035-0]. In a survey of hundreds of thousands of trees across South America and Africa, including in Salonga National Park, analysis suggests that tropical trees have reached their limit when it comes to absorbing carbon because too many trees are dying and forests are shrinking…. [https://eos.org/articles/tropical-forests-are-losing-their-ability-to-soak-up-carbon] 2019-11-22. Brazil’s deforestation is exploding—and 2020 will be worse.
By Herton Escobar, Science Magazine.
2019-11-22. Brazil’s deforestation is exploding—and 2020 will be worse. By Herton Escobar, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/brazil-s-deforestation-exploding-and-2020-will-be-worse] Excerpt: Development, most of it illegal, destroyed more than 9700 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the year ending in July, according to a government estimate released on Monday—an increase of 30% from the previous year and the highest rate of deforestation since 2007–08…. See also “Massive Australian blazes will ‘reframe our understanding of bushfire’ [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/massive-australian-blazes-will-reframe-our-understanding-bushfire]
2019-10-11. Why Amazon Fires Keep Raging 10 Years After a Deal to End Them. By Clifford Krauss, David Yaffe-Bellany and Mariana Simões, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/americas/amazon-fires-brazil-cattle.html] Excerpt: …The immense scale of the fires in Brazil this summer raised a global alarm about the risks they posed to the world’s largest rainforest, which soaks up carbon dioxide and helps keep global temperatures from rising. …A deal inked 10 years ago was meant to stop the problem, but the ecological arson goes on as the Earth warms. …In 2009, the three biggest Brazilian meatpacking companies signed an agreement with the environmental group Greenpeace not to buy cattle from ranchers who raised their beef in newly deforested areas. The deal was meant to be a model for the world, a partnership between private industry and environmental activists that would benefit both. …But the vows made by those three companies — JBS, Minerva and Marfrig, which handle about 50 percent of the beef raised in the Amazon — have been only partially kept, according to prosecutors, environmentalists and academics who study the cattle industry. The failure to fulfill crucial elements of the ambitious promise — which were always going to be a challenge to achieve — is one of the main reasons the Amazon is on fire. Cattle ranching has been responsible for 18,000 square miles of additional deforestation — equivalent to New Hampshire and Vermont combined — since the 2009 agreement between Greenpeace and the meatpackers, according to University of Wisconsin researchers….
See also Deforestation Could Exacerbate Drought in the Amazon [https://eos.org/articles/deforestation-could-exacerbate-drought-in-the-amazon] by Kate Wheeling, Eos/AGU 2019-10-10. … the Amazon also has a critical role in Earth’s water cycle, releasing water vapor into the atmosphere that can travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers before falling to the ground. A new study [https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eco.2126] finds that converted land is much less efficient at supplying this atmospheric river than intact rain forest. This reduced efficiency is most evident during droughts, which are expected to become longer and more frequent as climate change progresses….
2019-10-01. Indonesia’s fires are bad, but new measures prevented them from becoming worse. By Dennis Normile, Science Magazine.By Dennis Normile, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/10/indonesias-fires-are-bad-new-measures-prevented-them-becoming-worse] Excerpt: Once again haze is suffocating Indonesia, but some scientists say it could have been worse. Acrid smoke from fires set to clear land for agriculture has sent scores to hospitals with respiratory problems and closed thousands of schools in Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia. At its thickest, in mid-September, more than 100 flights had to be canceled because of poor visibility. Although the government has tried to seed clouds for rain and dump water from the air, only the monsoon rains due later this month are likely to quench the fires. Yet countermeasures Indonesia has taken since the last major haze event, in 2015, have helped limit this year’s disaster. A new agency is restoring degraded peatlands, where agribusiness has drained and dried out meters-thick layers of waterlogged vegetation, making it vulnerable to ground fires that are almost impossible to stop. The government has also beefed up a moratorium on the conversion of prime forest land underlain by peat. The efforts “are providing some positive results,” says Arief Wijaya of the Indonesian branch of the World Resources Institute in Jakarta. But virtually all experts agree that more is needed, including stricter enforcement of a ban on setting fires….
2019-09-17. As Amazon Smolders, Indonesia Fires Choke the Other Side of the World. By Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/17/world/asia/indonesia-fires-photos.html]. Excerpt: JAKARTA, Indonesia — Brazil has captured global attention over deliberately set fires that are burning the Amazon rainforest, often called the earth’s lungs. Now Indonesia is compounding the concern with blazes to clear forest on the other side of the world. Hundreds of wildfires burned across Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra on Tuesday, producing thick clouds of smoke that disrupted air travel, forced schools to close and sickened many thousands of people. Poorly equipped firefighters were unable to bring them under control. Officials said that about 80 percent of the fires were set intentionally to make room for palm plantations, a lucrative cash crop that has led to deforestation on much of Sumatra. The slash-and-burn conflagrations, which tore through sensitive rainforests where dozens of endangered species live, immediately drew comparisons to the wildfires in the Amazon basin that have destroyed more than 2 million acres….
2019-08-30. ‘A little bit of everything is burning.’: A NASA scientist dissects Amazon fires. By Herton Escobar, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/little-bit-everything-burning-nasa-scientist-dissects-amazon-fires] Excerpt: A rash of fires in the Brazilian Amazon has caused diplomatic tensions between Brazil and several European countries and triggered protests from environmental groups around the world. Brazil’s government has pledged to stop the fires and sent in the military but denies its policies and rhetoric are responsible. Science talked with remote sensing specialist Douglas Morton, one of the scientists who is closely watching the blazes. Morton heads the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which monitors land use and environmental changes through satellite data. Between January and late August, NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites have detected 100,000 “fire spots” in the Brazilian Amazon—the highest number in that period since 2010. The numbers are in line with those from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. With partners at the University of California, Irvine, and Vrije University in Amsterdam, Morton maintains the Global Fire Emissions Database, which tracks carbon emissions and burned areas from fire activity around the world. He has also worked in the field with Brazilian colleagues since 2001, studying the forests’ vulnerability and resilience to drought, fire, and logging….
2019-08-28. The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: A World of Fire. By Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/climate/fire-amazon-africa-siberia-worldwide.html] Excerpt: In South America, the Amazon basin is ablaze. Halfway around the world in central Africa, vast stretches of savanna are going up in flame. Arctic regions in Siberia are burning at a historic pace. …Hotter, drier temperatures “are going to continue promoting the potential for fire,” said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor in the department of geography at the University of Idaho, describing the risk of “large, uncontainable fires globally” if warming trends continue. Wildfires contribute to climate change because not only do they release carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere but they can also kill trees and vegetation that remove climate-warming emissions from the air. …And though the Amazon is widely described as the world’s lungs, a reference to the forest’s ability to produce oxygen while storing carbon dioxide, forests like those in Siberia are as important to the global climate system as tropical rainforests. One reason that arctic wildfires are particularly concerning is that in addition to trees and grassland burning, peat also burns, a dirt-like material in the ground itself that releases much more carbon dioxide when it burns than do trees per acre of fire…. See also Where is the Amazon Rainforest Vanishing? Not Just in Brazil [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/world/americas/amazon-rainforest.html]
2019-07-25. These squirrel-size monkeys helped bring Peru’s Amazon back to life. By Katie Camero, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/07/these-squirrel-size-monkeys-helped-bring-peru-s-amazon-back-life] Excerpt: The lush Amazon rainforest of northeastern Peru lost most of its trees when it was logged and converted to pastures for water buffalo in 1990. But after humans abandoned the area about 10 years later, the forest slowly began to regrow. Now, scientists have an explanation for how it revived so quickly: the foraging activities of tamarins, squirrel-size monkeys native to the area. …for more than 20 years, researchers used GPS tracking devices and field observations to measure how much time the monkeys spent in the previously logged forest. The researchers also tracked how often and where the monkeys excreted seeds they ate from fruit trees—most of which came from a nearby forest. During the first 3 years, the monkeys spent less than 1.5% of their time in the previously logged forest, but by 2016, this increased to about 12%. Of the hundreds of seeds researchers tracked, 15 survived and grew into trees that were taller than 2 meters. …the monkeys play a critical role in bringing deforested areas back to life, the researchers report today in Scientific Reports….
2019-07-15. Hungry elephants fight climate change one mouthful at a time. By Eva Frederick, Science Magazine. By Eva Frederick, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/07/hungry-elephants-fight-climate-change-one-mouthful-time] Excerpt: African forest elephants can eat up to 450 kilograms of vegetation a day as they plow through the rainforests of West Africa and the Congo Basin. But all this munching actually leads to forests with more plant mass, according to a new study, and it could be good for climate change. …they munch trees and plants with stems smaller than 30 centimeters in diameter—a little wider than a basketball—often damaging or killing them. Researchers used a model to predict what a forest might look like after years of elephants eating down these smaller plants. The bottom line: Slow-growing, shade-tolerant trees thrive with less competition for water and sunlight. The resulting forest has fewer, taller trees with denser wood, and the overall mass of vegetation above the ground is higher, meaning more carbon is stored, the team reports on today in Nature Geoscience. …as elephants disappear—which they are doing at an alarming rate—those same forests will be less able to help fight climate change. Elephants’ effects on forest ecosystems may also explain why rainforests look different from continent to continent. A walk through the elephant-free Peruvian Amazon, for example, is a much different experience than a trek through a rainforest in the Republic of Congo, which has smaller, more tightly packed trees despite similar climate and soil conditions…. See also https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/19/science/elephants-climate-change.html
2019-07-11. Courting controversy, scientists team with industry to tackle one of the world’s most destructive crops. By Dyna Rochmyaningsih, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/07/courting-controversy-scientists-team-industry-tackle-one-world-s-most-destructive-crops] Excerpt: IN LIBO ON SUMATRA, INDONESIA—Crickets were chirping one clear morning in April when Anak Agung Aryawan walked under the canopy of a quarter-century-old oil palm plantation here. Suddenly Agung, an agroecologist, stopped. “Look, that’s a Sycanus!” He pointed at a black insect perched on a fern in the forest understory. Known as an assassin bug, Sycanus uses its mouthpart to stab its insect prey, including the fire caterpillar, one of the most important pests of oil palm trees. He soon found more insect killers in the palm grove: a Nephila spider, known for its big, elaborate web, and the bright yellow Cosmolestes, another species of assassin bug. Agung works for SMARTRI, an oil palm research institute here owned by Sinar Mas, one of Indonesia’s largest business conglomerates. The study plot he was visiting was managed without herbicides or insecticides; plantation workers weeded it by hand, and only in a small circle around each tree. As a result, many tall ferns and shrubs were growing beneath the canopy, creating a home for insects, spiders, and snakes. Many Indonesian planters would abhor this semiwilderness, worrying the understory would compete with oil palm trees for water and nutrients. Agung sees it differently. Allowing a luxuriant understory to grow in plantations can protect insects and some small mammals, such as the leopard cat—and ultimately benefit the oil palm trees as well. Sycanus and other predators control pests, for example, and other invertebrates improve the soil and pollinate the palms. Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is one of the most controversial crops today, because the plantations often replace tropical rainforests rich in biodiversity, depriving iconic species such as the orangutan of their habitats. Vast swaths of Indonesia and Malaysia are given over to the crop. But Agung and a growing number of other scientists say it’s time to work with oil palm companies—some of them in the crosshairs of environmental activists—to make the best of a bad situation….
2019-06-21. ‘These Forests Are the Lungs of the Country’: Thai Rangers Guard Precious Rosewood. By Ben C. Solomon and Richard C. Paddock, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/world/asia/thailand-rosewood-poaching.html] Excerpt: …The jungles of Ta Phraya National Park in southeastern Thailand, part of a Unesco world heritage site, are home to sun bears, crocodiles and elephants. But these poachers are not after animal prey. They are hunting for the perfect tree, and when they do find it, they work quickly, chopping it down and slicing it into wooden planks in a matter of hours. Their target, rosewood, can sell for tens of thousands in China and has earned an infamous nickname: “bloodwood.” The poachers — who announce their presence to each other through the star-shaped symbol — are mostly Cambodians, said officials at the Freeland Foundation, a nongovernmental group that supports the rangers in their fight against poaching. …“These forests are the lungs of the country,” said Kaew Kornkam, an elite ranger trainer. “The army protects the country, the police protect the society, we protect the air that we breath.” …Thailand is the only country in the region with significant stands of rosewood remaining. In the past three months, it has seen a sudden spike in cross-border tree poaching, Mr. Redford said….
2018-09-13. New global study reveals the ‘staggering’ loss of forests caused by industrial agriculture. By Erik Stokstad, Science Magazine. [http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/scientists-reveal-how-much-world-s-forests-being-destroyed-industrial-agriculture] Excerpt: A new analysis of global forest loss—the first to examine not only where forests are disappearing, but also why—reveals just how much industrial agriculture is contributing to the loss. The answer: some 5 million hectares—the area of Costa Rica—every year. And despite years of pledges by companies to help reduce deforestation, the amount of forest cleared to plant oil palm and other booming crops remained steady between 2001 and 2015. …Philip Curtis…trained a computer program to recognize five causes of forest loss in satellite images: wildfire, logging of tree plantations, large-scale agriculture, small-scale agriculture, and urbanization. To teach the software, Curtis spent weeks staring at thousands of images from Google Earth that showed deforestation with a known cause. “It was some of the most distressing part of the work,” he says, especially when looking at Southeast Asia. “The scale of the loss was staggering.” …All told, about 27% of the total loss between 2001 and 2015 was due to large-scale farming and ranching, Curtis and his colleagues report today in Science….
2018-06-27. Tropical forests suffered near-record tree losses in 2017. By Brad Plumer, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: In Brazil, forest fires set by farmers and ranchers to clear land for agriculture raged out of control last year, wiping out more than 3 million acres of trees as a severe drought gripped the region. Those losses undermined Brazil’s recent efforts to protect its rain forests. In Colombia, a landmark peace deal between the government and the country’s largest rebel group paved the way for a rush of mining, logging and farming that caused deforestation in the nation’s Amazon region to spike last year. And in the Caribbean, hurricanes Irma and Maria flattened nearly one-third of the forests in Dominica and a wide swath of trees in Puerto Rico last summer. In all, the world’s tropical forests lost roughly 39 million acres of trees last year, an area roughly the size of Bangladesh or Iowa, according to a report Wednesday by Global Forest Watch that used new satellite data from the University of Maryland. Forest Watch is part of the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. That made 2017 the second-worst year for tropical tree cover loss in the satellite record, just below the losses in 2016. …Trees, particularly those in the lush tropics, pull carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow and lock that carbon in their wood and soil. When humans cut down or burn trees, the carbon gets released back into the atmosphere, warming the planet…. https://m.sfgate.com/world/article/Tropical-forests-suffered-near-record-tree-losses-13031522.php
2018-02-02. Dams nudge Amazon’s ecosystems off-kilter. By Barbara Fraser, Science. Summary: Once upon a time, thousands of dorados, a giant among catfish, would swim more than 3000 kilometers from the mouth of the Amazon River to spawn in Bolivia’s Mamoré River, in the foothills of the Andes. But the dorado, which can grow to more than 2 meters in length, is disappearing from those waters, and scientists blame two hydropower dams erected downstream a decade ago. As countries seek new energy sources to drive economic growth, a surge in dam construction on the eastern flank of the Andes could further threaten fish migration and sediment flows, scientists warn this week in Science Advances. The main consequence of proliferating dams is habitat fragmentation. The dorado’s disappearance suggests fragmentation is already taking a toll…. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6375/508
2017-12-05. Sometimes Seeing More Endangered Tigers Isn’t a Good Sign. By Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times. Excerpt: Sumatran tigers can’t seem to catch a break. This week, a study containing good news about the population of this endangered cat also carried a disclaimer that there was probably no cause for optimism. The new study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, relied on images from more than 300 trap cameras as well as data from decades of similar studies. The authors reported that tiger density in Sumatra’s three largest protected forests increased 5 percent per year from 1996 to 2014, suggesting that Indonesia’s preservation efforts are slowly working. However, the increase was probably caused by an influx of tigers fleeing unprotected forests on the large western island in the Indonesian archipelago, where their numbers are dropping rapidly, the researchers said…. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/science/sumatran-tigers.html
2017-02-24. Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back. By Hiroko Tabuchi, Claire Rigby, and Jeremy White, The New York Times. Excerpt: COLONIA BERLIN, Bolivia …A decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement forced changes that dramatically slowed deforestation across the Amazon basin, activity is roaring back in some of the biggest expanses of forests in the world. That resurgence, driven by the world’s growing appetite for soy and other agricultural crops, is raising the specter of a backward slide in efforts to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change…. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/business/energy-environment/deforestation-brazil-bolivia-south-america.html
2015-11-20. Half of all tree species in Amazon ‘face extinction’. By Helen Briggs, BBC News. Excerpt: …According to new data, up to 57% of all Amazonian trees may already fit the criteria of being globally threatened. …Forest cover in the Amazon has been shrinking for decades, but little is known about the impact on individual plant species. The trees at risk include iconic species like the Brazil nut tree, food crops such as cacao, the source of chocolate, as well as rare trees that are almost unknown to science. The research, published in the journal, Science Advances, compared data from almost 1,500 forest plots with maps of current and predicted forest loss to estimate how many tree species have been lost and how many are likely to disappear by the middle of the century. …It found that the Amazon – the world’s most diverse forest – could be home to more than 15,000 tree species. Of these, between 36% and 57% are likely to qualify as being globally threatened under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria…. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34880656
2015-05-15. In Brazil, cattle industry begins to help fight deforestation. By Allie Wilkinson, Science. Excerpt: Cattle ranching has been the primary driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, as huge swaths of rainforest are cleared to make way for agriculture. But “zero-deforestation agreements” signed by some of Brazil’s big beef industry players appear to be helping reduce the destruction, a new study concludes. “We’re showing that these commitments can [produce] meaningful change on the ground,” says land use researcher Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a lead author of the study, published online this week in Conservation Letters. …The herd expanded 200% between 1993 and 2013, researchers estimate, reaching a total of nearly 60 million individuals. During that time, an area of forest the size of Italy was cleared. …the federal prosecutor began suing ranchers that had illegally cleared forest and threatened to sue retailers in an effort to persuade them to boycott slaughterhouses associated with forest-clearing ranches. In response, Brazil’s three largest meatpacking companies (JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva) signed an agreement with the government, stating they would stop purchasing directly from ranches that cleared more forest than legally permitted. A few months later, the trio of firms signed a more stringent agreement with Greenpeace, known as the G4 agreement, under which they committed to buy only from direct suppliers that reduced deforestation to zero. …Within months, nearly 60% of the suppliers had registered, and compliance reached 96% by 2013. …By 2013, “recent deforestation” had occurred on just 4% of the ranches supplying cows to the slaughterhouses, down from 36% of ranches in 2009…. http://news.sciencemag.org/economics/2015/05/brazil-cattle-industry-begins-help-fight-deforestation
2015-03-23. Amazon Forest Becoming Less of a Climate Change Safety Net. By Justin Gillis, the New York Times. Excerpt: The ability of the Amazon forest to soak up excess carbon dioxide is weakening over time, researchers reported last week. That finding suggests that limiting climate change could be more difficult than expected. For decades, Earth’s forests and seas have been soaking up roughly half of the carbon pollution that people are pumping into the atmosphere. That has limited the planetary warming that would otherwise result from those emissions. …In a vast study spanning 30 years and covering 189,000 trees distributed across 321 plots in the Amazon basin, researchers led by a group at the University of Leeds, in Britain, reported that the uptake of carbon dioxide in the Amazon peaked in the 1990s, at about 2 billion tons a year, and has since fallen by half. …“Forests are doing us a huge favor, but we can’t rely on them to solve the carbon problem,” Dr. Phillips said. “Instead, deeper cuts in emissions will be required to stabilize our climate.”… http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/science/earth/amazon-forest-becoming-less-of-a-climate-change-safety-net.html.
2014-12-23. Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. Excerpt: LA VIRGEN, Costa Rica — …this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica. Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country’s forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen. In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy. That is because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet. Trees pull the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of the air and lock the carbon away in their wood and in the soil beneath them. Destroying them, typically by burning, pumps much of the carbon back into the air, contributing to climate change…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/24/science/earth/restored-forests-are-making-inroads-against-climate-change-.html.
2014-10-03. Clashing Visions of Conservation Shake Brazil’s Presidential Vote. Excerpt: From the podium at the United Nations to declarations on the campaign trail, President Dilma Rousseff is celebrating Brazil’s protection of the Amazon. But satellite data released last month shows that Brazil’s annual deforestation rate in the Amazon has climbed again after years of declines, rising 29 percent, leaving her vulnerable to attacks in this nation’s acrimonious presidential race. …When the security forces here find new signs of illegal deforestation, they often act swiftly, arresting and fining those responsible. They destroy encampments and equipment, setting fire to tractors and logging trucks. Such methods helped lower annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by about 70 percent since 2000. …But land speculators are adapting. Investigators say that some have assembled a web of informants tracking the movements of the environmental police. At times, small revolts have also erupted, as when dozens of people in a nearby settlement cornered the environmental police at their hotel in May. Then there are tactics like deploying arsonist crews at times of heavy cloud cover or light rains, when detecting fires under the forest canopy by satellite is thought to be harder. …“This is the Wild West of environmental crimes,” he said. “We are waging an endless war.” …Though almost 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon has been cleared since the 1960s and ’70s, Ms. Teixeira said that Brazil could serve as an anti-deforestation example for the developing world. “I would love for the forests of Indonesia or the Congo River Basin to have the same levels of protection we have forged,” she added. Still, Brazil’s deforestation rate could climb for a second consecutive year, after the 29 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. Preliminary data from a satellite-based system showed a 9 percent increase in deforestation alerts, the National Institute for Space Research said in September…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/04/world/americas/brazil-rainforest-amazon-conservation-election-rousseff-silva.html. By Simon Romero, The New York Times.
2014-04-28. Study shows how Brazilian cattle ranching policies can reduce deforestation. Excerpt: There is a higher cost to steaks and hamburgers than what is reflected on the price tags at grocery stores and restaurants. Producing food – and beef, in particular – is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are projected to grow as rising incomes in emerging economies lead to greater demands for meat. But an encouraging new study by UC Berkeley researchers and international collaborators …, published today (Monday, April 28) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that by subsidizing more productive use of pastureland, and by taxing those who stick with less sustainable practices, Brazil could cut its rate of deforestation by half and shave off as much as 25 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. …“semi-intensive” cattle ranching practices in Brazil…include better management of pastureland by rotating where animals graze, planting better grasses more frequently, and amending the soil to unlock more nutrients. The authors noted that better land management could double productivity of pasturelands compared to conventional practices, thereby reducing the pressure to cut down more trees. …Over the past several decades, Brazil has risen to become the largest beef exporter in the world. …“There’s this notion that fighting climate change requires a stark tradeoff for emerging economies, that they must forego development to meet their emissions target,” said Cohn. “This paper suggests that there is a pathway where that compromise may not be needed.”… http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/04/28/brazil-cattle-ranching-deforestation/. By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley News Center.
2014-02-06. ScienceShot: Fire Is Blackening ‘Earth’s Lungs’. Excerpt: The vast expanses of rainforest that make up the Amazon Basin have been called the lungs of the planet, as they breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Now, findings from biweekly airplane flights over the jungle show how a severe drought choked these lungs, constricting the uptake of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Worse, fires released tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. …Scientists are concerned that climate change—with rising temperatures and more droughts—will reduce the rainforest’s storage of carbon and in turn hinder its ability to slow the pace of global warming. http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/02/scienceshot-fire-blackening-earths-lungs. Erik Stokstad, Science Magazine (AAAS).
2013-11-14. NASA-USGS Landsat Data Yield Best View to Date of Global Forest Losses, Gains. Excerpt: The ravages of deforestation, wildfires, windstorms, and insects on global forests during this century are revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study based on data from the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat 7 satellite. The maps resulting from the study are the first to document forest loss and gain using a consistent method around the globe, at high resolution. They allow scientists to compare forest changes in different countries and monitor annual deforestation. With each pixel in a Landsat image showing an area about the size of a baseball diamond, researchers see enough detail to tell local, regional and global stories. Prior to this study, country-to-country comparisons of forestry data were not possible at this level of accuracy. …During the study period, Brazil cut its deforestation rate from approximately 15,400 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) per year to approximately 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers) per year. “That’s the result of a concerted policy effort to reduce deforestation, and it sets a standard for the rest of the world,” Hansen said. …The team found the deforestation rate in other countries increased. Indonesia’s deforestation rate doubled in the study period, from approximately 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) per year in 2000-2003 to more than 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers) in 2011-2012. …A different pattern of change appears in the southeastern U.S., where landowners harvest trees for timber and quickly plant their replacements. “Of this eco-region in the southeast, 30 percent of the forest land was regrown or lost during this period,” Hansen said. “It’s incredibly intensive. Trees are really treated like a crop in this region.” In Alabama, Landsat also detected miles-long streaks of destroyed forest. When the researchers examined the year-by-year record, they found the damage occurred in 2011 after a violent tornado season. …To view the forest cover maps in Google Earth Engine, visit: http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/google.com/science-2013-global-forest – Source: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/november/nasa-usgs-landsat-data-yield-best-view-to-date-of-global-forest-losses-gains/. NASA Release 13-335.
2013-10-11. In Indonesia, Environmentalists See a Disaster in the Making. Excerpt: Aceh, the northern province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is a region made famous by separatist conflict and natural disasters, calamities that long held back economic development but helped preserve one of the world’s richest ecosystems. Now conservationists say the rapid clearing of virgin forest is paving the way for environmental catastrophe, turning critically endangered orangutans, tigers and elephants into refugees, and triggering landslides and flash floods. Much of the current activity is illegal, they say, but if a land-use plan proposed by Aceh’s governor, Zaini Abdullah, is approved by the national government, currently protected forests could be rezoned as “production forests,” paving the way for logging, palm oil and mining concessions. The Aceh government argues that the change is needed to develop the local economy…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/12/world/asia/in-indonesia-environmentalists-see-a-disaster-in-the-making.html. Sara Schonhardt, The New York Times.
2013-04-23 Experiment aims to steep rainforest in carbon dioxide. http://www.nature.com/news/experiment-aims-to-steep-rainforest-in-carbon-dioxide-1.12855 , Jeff Tollefson, Nature. Excerpt: Sensor-studded plots in the Amazon forest will measure the fertilizing effect of the gas. …The ways in which rising carbon dioxide levels will affect the Amazon rainforest are still highly uncertain. …One of the wild cards in climate change is the fate of the Amazon rainforest. Will it shrivel as the region dries in a warming climate? Or will it grow even faster as the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere spurs photosynthesis and allows plants to use water more efficiently? A dying rainforest could release gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating warming; a CO2-fertilized forest could have the opposite effect, sucking up carbon and putting the brakes on climate change. Climate modellers … have had precious few data to go on. …Now an international team of scientists is developing an ambitious experiment in the central Amazon that … would bathe a patch of rainforest in extra CO2 and, over the course of a decade or more, measure how the plants respond….
2012-05-03. Rebirth Control: Lessons Learned from 90 Years of Rainforest Regeneration | by John Pickrell, Scientific American. Excerpt: …here at Kepong, 16 kilometers north of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, … what seems to the untrained eye to be dense primary rainforest is in fact an area that was denuded as recently as the 1920s. Scrubby vegetation, made up of grasses, ferns and fast-growing pioneer bushes and trees, was all that remained after the forest had been stripped to allow tin mining and vegetable cultivation. …in 1926 pioneering forestry scientists in the pay of the British colonial government started a grand experiment to reseed, and it … has slowly been regenerating for nearly 90 years. Today the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) has a regeneration experiment that covers 500 hectares …. “This is certainly one of the oldest rainforest regeneration experiments around—…—and it’s really big in scale,” says Bill Laurance, … expert on tropical forests at James Cook University…. reforestation experiments are ongoing in many parts of the tropical world: “in Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Puerto Rico, tropical Australia and other locales. … These kind of experiments “tell us a lot about rebuilding a rainforest,” he says, as well as inform us about “what we can do that will help forests recover their biodiversity, carbon storage and other ecological functions in as short a time as possible—and hopefully in a way that roughly approximates the forest that was there originally.” …View a slideshow of the Malaysian rainforest regeneration…. Read the full article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=malaysian-rainforest-regeneration
2012 Mar 25. Vast Tracts in Paraguay Forest Being Replaced by Ranches. An article by Simon Romero, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Huge tracts of the Chaco are being razed in a scramble into one of South America’s most remote corners by cattle ranchers from Brazil, Paraguay’s giant neighbor, and German-speaking Mennonites, descendants of colonists who arrived here nearly a century ago and work as farmers and ranchers. …Paraguay’s Chaco forest lies in the Gran Chaco plain, which spans several nations. …At least 1.2 million acres of the Chaco have been deforested in the last two years, according to satellite analyses by Guyra, an environmental group in Asunción, the capital. Ranchers making way for their vast herds of cattle have cleared roughly 10 percent of the Chaco forest in the last five years, Guyra said. That is reflected in surging beef exports. …More alarming, the land rush is also intensifying the upheaval among the Chaco’s indigenous peoples, who number in the thousands and have been grappling for decades with forays by foreign missionaries, the rising clout of the Mennonites and infighting among different tribes…. See full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/world/americas/paraguays-chaco-forest-being-cleared-by-ranchers.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120325
2012 Jan 24. In Brazil, Fears of a Slide Back for Amazon Protection. By Alexei Barrionuevo, The NY Times. Excerpt: Brazil has made great strides in recent years in slowing Amazon deforestation and showing the world it was serious about protecting the mammoth rain forest. …
…But since Dilma Rousseff was elected president in late 2010, there have been signs of a shift in the government’s attitude toward the Amazon….
…Now, a bill seeking to overhaul the 47-year-old Forest Code, a central piece of environmental legislation, is the most serious test yet of Ms. Rousseff’s stance on the environment.
The debate over the law has revealed the stark disconnect between a population that is increasingly supportive of conserving the Amazon and a Congress in which agricultural interests in the country’s rural north and northeast still hold sway. The furor comes as Brazil is set to hold a United Nations conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in June….
2011 October 25. Grad student finds inspiration in the clouds. By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley NewsCenter. Excerpt:
Greg Goldsmith has his head in the clouds. But the University of California, Berkeley, graduate student is also firmly grounded in today’s reality: the Central American cloud forests he loves are threatened by global warming….
…To spread the word, Goldsmith teamed up with two visual artists to capture breathtaking, high-definition photos and video of a cloud forest in Costa Rica and then incorporated them into a middle-school curriculum, “Canopy in the Clouds,” about this unique but endangered ecosystem….
…The gorgeously green panoramas, which can be explored in 360 degrees as well as up and down, are sprinkled with clickable links that open videos or text about the plants and animals inhabiting the forest…
The curriculum, translated into Spanish as “Dosel en Las Nubes,” is being tested with nearly 1,000 students in 10 schools in Costa Rica, while the English-language lesson plans have been downloaded more than 2,000 times from the Canopy in the Clouds Website since its launch in January 2011…. [View the Canopy In The Clouds site at http://www.canopyintheclouds.com/]
Fall 2011. The Root of the Problem. By Calen May-Tobin Catalyst, Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: Humans have been using and clearing forests for thousands of years, but what was once a local practice with localized impacts is now a global problem. Tropical deforestation not only accounts for around 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions, but also affects the biodiversity and the livelihoods of forest peoples.
To stop this problem we must first understand what is driving it. As we found in our new report, The Root of the Problem, many assumptions about the “drivers” of tropical deforestation are no longer accurate, with new drivers taking precedence over traditional ones. And recent actions to deal with some of these driving forces show that deforestation can be slowed—or even stopped—in the next few decades…. [Download the the full UCS report The Root of the Problem].
2011-05-31. New NASA Map Reveals Tropical Forest Carbon Storage | NASA. Excerpt: ADENA, Calif. – A NASA-led research team has used a variety of NASA satellite data to create the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount and location of carbon stored in Earth’s tropical forests. The data are expected to provide a baseline for ongoing carbon monitoring and research and serve as a useful resource for managing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The new map, created from ground- and space-based data, shows, for the first time, the distribution of carbon stored in forests across more than 75 tropical countries. Most of that carbon is stored in the extensive forests of Latin America. …Deforestation and forest degradation contribute 15 to 20 percent of global carbon emissions, and most of that contribution comes from tropical regions. Tropical forests store large amounts of carbon in the wood and roots of their trees. When the trees are cut and decompose or are burned, the carbon is released to the atmosphere. …The map reveals that in the early 2000s, forests in the 75 tropical countries studied contained 247 billion tons of carbon. For perspective, about 10 billion tons of carbon is released annually to the atmosphere from combined fossil fuel burning and land use changes. The researchers found that forests in Latin America hold 49 percent of the carbon in the world’s tropical forests. For example, Brazil’s carbon stock alone, at 61 billion tons, almost equals all of the carbon stock in sub-Saharan Africa, at 62 billion tons…. See full article at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/earth20110531.html.
2011 March 29. NASA RELEASE 11-090: NASA Satellites Detect Extensive Drought Impact On Amazon Forests. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — A new NASA-funded study has revealed widespread reductions in the greenness of Amazon forests caused by last year’s record-breaking drought….
…The comprehensive study was prepared by an international team of scientists using more than a decade’s worth of satellite data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). Analysis of these data produced detailed maps of vegetation greenness declines from the 2010 drought….
…The maps show the 2010 drought reduced the greenness of approximately 965,000 square miles of vegetation in the Amazon — more than four times the area affected by the last severe drought in 2005.…
2011 March 21. As Larger Animals Decline, Forests Feel Their Absence. By Sharon Levy, Environment 360 (Yale). Excerpt:…Today native Mauritian plants, under siege from a tide of invasive competitors and predators, hang on only in a few small conservation management areas. Even where invasive plants are laboriously weeded out by hand, large-fruited native tree populations are dwindling because of a lack of fruit-eating animals to disperse the trees’ seeds….
…As part of a restoration effort on Ile aux Aigrettes, an uninhabited islet off the Mauritius coast, the Mauritius Wildlife Federation and the Mauritius government in 2000 introduced giant Aldabra tortoises to test whether the tortoises could help revive native vegetation. The tortoises are now dispersing the seeds of several native plants and are knocking back an invasion of the exotic tree, Leuceana leucocephala, by devouring its seedlings….
2010 Nov 26. The Fight for Yasuni. By Eric Marx, Science. Abstract: Over the past decade, biologists working in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and the adjoining Waorani Ethnic Reserve, a 17,000-kilometer section of the Amazon Basin that was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, have documented Yasuni’s remarkable biodiversity, providing evidence that its forest has the highest number of species on the planet, including an unprecedented core where there are overlapping world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees. Through a group called Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, these researchers have waged an international campaign to protect the location, which happens to sit atop Ecuador’s second largest reserve of crude oil. This unabashed science-based advocacy has had an impact…
2010 July 17. Ranchers and Drug Barons Threaten Rain Forest. By Blake Schmidt, The New York Times. Excerpt: EL MIRADOR, Guatemala — Great sweeps of Guatemalan rain forest, once the cradle of one of the world’s great civilizations, are being razed to clear land for cattle-ranching drug barons.
Other parts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Central America’s largest protected area, have been burned down by small cities of squatters.
Looters and poachers, kept at bay when guerrilla armies roamed the region during the country’s 36-year civil war, ply their trades freely.
…President Álvaro Colom has grand plans to turn the region into a major eco-tourism destination, but if he hopes to bring tourists, officials say, he will have to bring the law here first.
…“Organized crime and drug traffickers have usurped large swaths of protected land amid a vacuum left by the state, and are creating de facto ranching areas,” Mr. Álvarez [the region’s governor] said. “We must get rid of them to really have conservation.”
…To Mr. Hansen, an Idaho State professor of archaeology, the risks of not protecting the region are obvious in every stone he unearths. The Maya, he said, largely sealed their fate through deforestation and erosion.
“The Maya destroyed their environment,” he said. “They cut down their jungle” and it ruined them forever. “And we’re doing the same thing today.”
2010 July 1. The Cost of Saving the Rainforest. By Tom Hennigan, The Irish Times. Excerpt: …For decades it seemed a losing struggle, as the annual dry season led to the setting of fires that burned away ever more of the jungle’s southern rim. But now there is tentative hope that this decades-long cycle of destruction is drawing to a close. In the past three years Brazil’s government has finally moved to control the region and is clamping down on deforestation. Jungle is still being cleared, but at just half the rate of before. Last year was the Brazilian Amazon’s best since 1988. Even many environmentalists are cautiously hopeful that the rainforest now stands a chance.
…The ranchers of Castanheira, 800km north of Cuiabá on the western edge of the BR-163’s corridor of destruction, all agree that times have changed. Today only a foolish or desperate man would burn down a patch of forest without a permit, and the authorities are no longer handing those out. “The government is watching too closely now. If you clear land then you get fined, and the fine is worth more than the land you clear,” says the town’s former mayor Genes Oliveira Rios.
…Brazilian governments long feared that the largely uninhabited Amazon was vulnerable to covetous outsiders, and in the 1970s the military dictatorship decided it was time to settle it. Under the banners “Integrate or Forfeit” and “A Land without Men for Men without Land” it handed out chunks of the forest for a pittance to anyone who wanted them. The only condition? To secure their claim settlers must clear half their property of jungle.
…But still the fear lingers that the outside world wants to force them from their homes, an idea reinforced when a leading official in Brazil’s environment ministry once told them that if they wanted to remain cattle ranchers they would have to move out of Amazonia.
…“The government doesn’t understand us and Europeans do not know our reality. We are not leaving this land,” says local community leader Lincoln Brasil Queiroz. “We are here now 30 years. Our whole lives are here. We have buried our parents here, and some of us have buried our children. We are linked to this land emotionally. We now are tradition.”
2010 June 24. The Other Oil Spill. By The Economist. Excerpt: …EARLY on April 21st 2008, Greenpeace activists dressed as orang-utans stormed Unilever’s headquarters in London. Similar raids took place at the multinational’s facilities on Merseyside, in Rome and in Rotterdam. Furry protesters scaled buildings, occupied production lines and unfurled banners. Many read: “Unilever: Don’t Destroy the Forests”. Dove, one of the company’s best-known brands, was singled out by name.
…The tactic was a simple one, intended to draw attention to the damage done to Indonesian tropical rainforests by the production of palm oil, an ingredient in many of Unilever’s products. It was also effective: soon after the orang-utan invasion the company said it would draw all its palm oil from “sustainable” sources by 2015.
…The charges against palm oil are serious: environmental groups regard it as a danger not only to Asian wildlife but also to the health of the planet. Between 1967 and 2000 the area under cultivation in Indonesia expanded from less than 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) to more than 30,000 square kilometres. Deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil and illegal logging is so rapid that a report in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said most of the country’s forest might be destroyed by 2022. Although the rate of forest loss has declined in Indonesia in the past decade, UNEP says the spread of palm-oil plantations is one of the greatest threats to forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.
…In fact in response Nestlé went further than any company had gone before. It undertook to exclude companies running “high-risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation” from its supply chain. To make this happen, Nestlé has recruited the Forest Trust (TFT), a charity based in Switzerland, to provide an independent review of its palm-oil supply chains, right down to ground level. Every supplier will be audited for evidence of illegal activity.
2010 June 8. Using the Internet to Save the Rainforest. By Juliane Von Mittelstaedt, ABC News. Excerpt: …The Surui will be soon be one of the first indigenous peoples that will be paid by the world to preserve its forest. They are being advised by investment bankers, lawyers, and managers. But the decisions will be all their own, taken at a gathering of 1,300 native Indios. Almir Surui believes his people need modernity to help them maintain their traditional way of life, that this is the only way they can save their forest, their culture, and their tribe. But because it is an experiment, the outcome is uncertain — for both the Surui and the rest of the world.
…Just last year, 130,000 square kilometers of forest was cut down or burnt, at least 10,000 square kilometers of this in Brazil. That may be the lowest figure in decades, but it’s still too much. Twenty percent of the Amazon rainforest has already disappeared. The same amount has been damaged. On a purely proportional scale, the greatest amount of forest has been lost in the state of Rondônia.
…When the chief returned to his village, he brought with him a computer and an idea: that the Surui’s only hope for survival lay in combining the two worlds of technology and tradition. It was the dawn of a new era.
…The chief’s words convinced nearly all the Surui, who avidly began breeding and planting seedlings. Gradually the forest returned. Ignoring the rain and the heat, they planted more and more species: Açai palms, Ipé (trumpet trees), Brazil nut, mahogany. Women, children, and the elderly all lent a hand, clearing scrubland that looks like forest but is no more than brushwood, palm trees, and ferns. They are still planting to this day.
…Almir Surui first heard the term REDD — or “retchy”, as he pronounces it — three years ago. The acronym stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. He discovered that forests trap carbon dioxide, and companies around the globe are willing to pay a lot of money to have the trees soak up carbon dioxide on their behalf. They don’t pay for a forest that is merely in existence, but rather for preventing its destruction.
2010 May 26. Kids’ Books not Safe for Rainforests. By Rebecca Tarbotton, Huffington Post. Excerpt: …What do major U.S. publishing houses, China and tropical rainforest destruction have in common? Children’s books. That’s right, a report put out this week by Rainforest Action Network found that a majority of the top ten U.S. children’s publishers have sold at least one children’s book that tested positive for paper fiber linked to the destruction of Indonesia’s endangered rainforests. And all of those books were produced in China.
…The razing of the Indonesian rainforests for commodities like paper and palm oil has destroyed the habitats of these endangered species and contributed to making the archipelago the third-largest source of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. Worldwide, the degradation and destruction of tropical rainforests is responsible for fifteen percent of all annual greenhouse emissions. The carbon emissions resulting from Indonesia’s rapid deforestation account for up to five percent of global emissions: more than the combined emissions from all the cars, planes, trucks, buses and trains in United States.
…There is no reason that Indonesia’s critical rainforests need to be cut down for our children’s books. Rainforest- free paper is a readily available alternative that publishers can demand from suppliers. If top U.S. book publishers demand cleaner paper, Chinese manufacturers will give it to them.
2010 Feb 16. Big business leaves big forest footprints. By Andrew Mitchell, BBC News. Excerpt: …A new report by Forest Footprint Disclosure reveals for the first time how global business is driving rainforests to destruction in order to provide things for you and me to eat.
But it does also reveal what companies are doing to try to lighten their forest footprint. Sadly, however, the answer is: not much, at least not yet.
Consumers “eat” rainforests each day – in the form of beef-burgers, bacon and beauty products – but without knowing it….
Because of growing demand for beef, soy and palm oil, which are in much of what we consume, as well as timber and biofuels, rainforests are worth more cut down than standing up.
…The gargantuan farms of Brazil’s Mato Grosso State can boast 50 combines abreast at harvest time, marching across monoculture prairies where once the most diverse ecosystem on Earth stood, albeit in some cases many years ago.
Further north, thousands of square miles of rainforest natural capital is going up in smoke each year, often illegally, to provide pastureland for just one cow per hectare to supply beef hungry Brazilians or more prosperous mouths in China and India.
Many of the hides from these cattle then go into the designer trainers, handbags or luxury car upholstery that wealthy markets have such an appetite for.
…None of this would matter but for three things. Firstly, evolution is being changed forever. Most of us, sadly, can live with that.
Secondly, burning tropical forests drives global warming faster than the world’s entire transport sector; there will be no solution to climate change without stopping deforestation.
Finally, losing forests may undermine food, energy and climate security. Yet saving them could, according to UN special adviser Pavan Sukhdev’s forthcoming review on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), reduce environmental costs by $3-5 trillion per year….
2009 March 9. Amazon Rainforest Carbon Sink Threatened By Drought. Science Daily. Excerpt: The Amazon is surprisingly sensitive to drought, according to new research conducted throughout the world’s largest tropical forest. The 30-year study, published in Science, provides the first solid evidence that drought causes massive carbon loss in tropical forests, mainly through killing trees.
…The study…was based on the unusual 2005 drought in the Amazon….
The 2005 drought sharply reversed decades of carbon absorption, in which Amazonia helped slow climate change.
In normal years the forest absorbs nearly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. The drought caused a loss of more than 3 billion tonnes. The total impact of the drought – 5 billion extra tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – exceeds the annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined.
“Visually, most of the forest appeared little affected, but our records prove tree death rates accelerated. Because the region is so vast, even small ecological effects can scale-up to a large impact on the planet’s carbon cycle,” explained Professor Phillips.
Some species, including some important palm trees, were especially vulnerable”, said Peruvian botanist and co-author Abel Monteagudo, “showing that drought threatens biodiversity too.”…
2008 March 5. Amazon Fires on the Rise. By Rebecca Lindsey , NASA Earth Observatory.
In 2006, fires and smoke in the Amazon declined significantly for the first time in nearly a decade. Is Amazon burning under control?
2007 January 14. Brazil Gambles on Monitoring of Amazon Loggers. By LARRY ROHTER, The New York Times REALIDADE, Brazil – A Brazilian government plan set to go into effect this year will bring large-scale logging deep into the heart of the Amazon rain forest for the first time, in a calculated gamble that new monitoring efforts can offset any danger of increased devastation. …The government of President Luiz In‡cio Lula da Silva, in an attempt to create Brazil’s first coherent, effective forest policy, is to begin auctioning off timber rights to large tracts of the rain forest. The winning bidders will not have title to the land or the right to exploit resources other than timber, and the government says they will be closely monitored and will pay a royalty on their activities. The architects of the plan say it will also help reduce tensions over land ownership in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest, which loses an area the size of New Jersey every year to clear-cutting and timbering. In theory, 70 percent of the jungle is public land, but miners, ranchers and especially loggers have felt free to establish themselves in unpoliced areas, strip the land of valuable resources and then move on, mostly in the so-called arc of destruction on the eastern and southern fringes of the jungle. But the called-for monitoring of the loggers allowed into the rain forest’s largely untouched center will come from a new, untested Forest Service with only 150 employees and from state and municipal governments. That concerns environmental and civic groups ….
19 September 2006. GROWTH IN AMAZON CROPLAND MAY IMPACT CLIMATE AND DEFORESTATION PATTERNS – Scientists using NASA satellite data have found that clearing for mechanized cropland in the Brazilian Amazon may alter the region’s climate and the land’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide. NASA Earth Observatory.
1 August 2006. SMALL-SCALE LOGGING LEADS TO CLEAR-CUTTING IN BRAZILIAN AMAZON – A NASA-funded study has discovered an important indicator of rain forest vulnerability to clear-cutting in Brazil
28 June 2006. Mapping the Changing Forests of Africa. by Stephanie Renfrow. From NASA DAAC Supporting Earth Observing Science collection of research articles. Excerpt: In the Central African Bwindi forest in Uganda, a gorilla sits on the forest floor nursing her young. A few miles away, a subsistence farmer burns a patch of forest in preparation for a crop that will feed his family. And as the smoke from the burning forest floats into the sky, carbon dioxide (CO2) drifts into the Earth’s atmosphere. The gorilla, the farmer, and the burning forest’s emissions are interconnected by a single phenomenon: a change in the way people use land. More than 900 million people live in Africa, and many of them rely on traditional slash-and-burn agriculture to survive lives of profound poverty. …up to a third of all global CO2 emissions comes from land-use changes, including agricultural fires. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that is causing our planet’s average surface temperatures to rise. … Land-use change also affects and threatens entire ecosystems and the plants and animals within them. In the case of the Central African forests, land-use change has contributed to pushing three species of Great Ape to the edge of extinction. Sadly, the very people who burn the forests to survive can deepen their own plight if they run out of the vital fuel and resources the forests provide.
6 June 2006. A Rain-Forest Census Takes Shape, Tree by Tree. By NANCY BETH JACKSON. NY Times. Excerpt: PANAMA – In 1979, two ecologists at Midwestern universities … came up with an audacious plan. They wanted exclusive rights to the top of Barro Colorado, a six-square-mile research island that had become one of the most studied spots on earth. The island, a biological reserve in the Panama Canal, was administered by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, so the two scientists, Robin Foster, then at the University of Chicago, and Stephen P. Hubbell, then at the University of Iowa, approached the institute’s director, Ira Rubinoff, and proposed mapping and measuring every tree every five years to monitor population changes and to test conflicting theories about diversity in tropical forests. Their audacity lay in their asking to bar all other scientific inquiries from their plot, to prevent tiny seedlings from being squashed by scholarly boots.
…New technologies speed, simplify and expand the work at the plots. Census takers can find their way in the forest with global positioning devices and access and enter information on their personal digital assistants. Canopy towers, photos from airplanes and satellites, and DNA analysis are other tools now being tapped by plot researchers.
At some camps, however, …Scientists make do without electricity, wash their clothes in rivers and cook over open fires.
…At other plots, stretched around the Equator like a belt, plot science takes on Indiana Jones dimensions. Deep in the forest, scientists can encounter tropical diseases, toxic ant bites, spitting cobras, smugglers and armed insurgents. …
Corneille E. N. Ewango, monitoring the 100-acre Ituri Forest plot established in 1994 in Congo, received the Goldman Environmental Prize last year for hiding data on 600 species and 380,000 trees during a civil war. He himself hid in the forest for three months rather than desert his post. “Though my country has the largest forest in Africa, it is one of the least known. We don’t have so much research in botany in the Congo, except what we are doing,” he explained when the prize was announced.
…Scientists estimate that tropical forests cover only 6 percent of the planet, less than half of what they once occupied. …1.2 percent of the remaining area disappearing every year….
11 January 2006. Deep-rooted plants have much greater impact on climate than experts thought. By Robert Sanders, Media Relations
BERKELEY – Trees, particularly those with deep roots, contribute to the Earth’s climate much more than scientists thought, according to a new study by biologists and climatologists from the University of California, Berkeley. While scientists studying global climate change recognize the importance of vegetation in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in local cooling through transpiration, they have assumed a simple model of plants sucking water out of the soil and spewing water vapor into the atmosphere. The new study in the Amazonian forest shows that trees use water in a much more complex way: The tap roots transfer rainwater from the surface to reservoirs deep underground and redistribute water upwards after the rains to keep the top layers moist, thereby accentuating both carbon uptake and localized atmospheric cooling during dry periods.
The researchers estimate this effect increases photosynthesis and the evaporation of water from plants, called transpiration, by 40 percent in the dry season, when photosynthesis otherwise would be limited. …said co-author Todd Dawson, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley… “Because this has not been considered until now, people have likely underestimated the amount of carbon taken up by the Amazon and underestimated the impact of Amazonian deforestation on climate.”
24 May 2005. To Save Its Canal, Panama Fights for Its Forests. NY Times. By CORNELIA DEAN. Excerpt: MIRAFLORES, Panama – A freighter slides slowly into the first of the Miraflores Locks, red, orange and white cargo containers stacked six or seven high on its deck. Gates swing shut and the lock begins to drain, water flowing into the lock below. A few minutes later, when the water levels are equal, gates at the other end of the lock swing open, and the ship moves into the next chamber. Once again, water drains, gates open and the ship and its tons of cargo head out to the Pacific Ocean. Something else is moving, too – about 26 million gallons of water, the amount that drains from the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks each time a ship goes through them to or from the Pacific. …The water comes from Gatún Lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, created during construction of the canal. The canal depends on the lake and its water, and they in turn depend on the health of the surrounding watershed forest. But in the last few decades, half of it has been lost to logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. …The Panama Canal Authority and an array of scientists are working together to study Gatún Lake’s hydrology, to restore its watershed and to teach the people who live there the importance of preserving it. …Water per se is not its problem. The Chagres drains a tropical jungle where it rains 10 feet or more each year – about three times as much as it rains in Seattle or New York, and in theory more than enough to keep the locks operating at capacity. But the rain does not fall steadily year-round. Most of it comes from May to December, in brief but intense downpours. An inch in an hour is ordinary, and six inches in a day is hardly unheard of. Rain falls so heavily in Panama that early canal builders described storms as turning the air to water. On forested slopes, much of this water soaks into the ground and feeds slowly into watershed streams and then into Gatún Lake. But deforested slopes cannot absorb heavy rains. Floods of water run off into the lake, overflow Gatún Dam and run out to sea – useless for lockage. Meanwhile, eroded sediment ends up on the lake bottom, reducing its storage capacity. …Despite the building of a railroad across the isthmus in the 19th century, the completion of the canal in 1914 and the military buildups of World Wars I and II, the watershed forest was more or less intact until about 1950, Dr. Heckadon said in an interview. …”Pretty soon we ended up with 3,000 kilometers of trails built by loggers and followed by cattlemen and slash-and-burn farmers,” Dr. Heckadon said. In the Chagres basin and in the watershed on the other side of the canal, thousands of acres fell to their machetes and chain saws. …Panamanians were such assiduous practitioners of slash-and-burn agriculture that some here began to joke bitterly that they must be born with machetes in their hands. Deforestation peaked in the 1980’s, said Dr. Robert F. Stallard, a geologist at the Smithsonian research institute in Panama who studies the hydrology of the watershed. By 2000, when Dr. Heckadon and his colleagues completed a study using satellite imagery and ground surveys, they found 53 percent of the watershed forest had been lost. …efforts are also under way to restore damaged landscapes. A.C.P. has begun a program called the Native Species Reforestation Project – a cooperative arrangement with the Smithsonian, the Yale University School of Forestry, the International Development Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard and other universities and agencies to study ways to protect the canal watershed and restore its native vegetation. The scientists are learning as they go, because little is known about reforesting tropical rain forests, said Dr. Mark S. Ashton, a professor of forest ecology at Yale.
(Photo Kathryn Cook/Associated Press)
The water to operate Panama Canal locks like Miraflores flows down from Gatún Lake, which depends on the health of the surrounding watershed forest.
8 March 2005. STEALING FROM THE RAINFOREST. Ecologist Dan Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center is engaged in an activity that might seem crazy for someone who cares about forests as much as he does. For the past two years, this veteran of tropical forest research has been stealing the rain over two and half acres of forest in the eastern Amazon.
February 2005. American Forests – http://www.americanforests.org/ – Planting trees to help the environment.
27 July 2004. NASA RELEASE : 04-242 NASA Plays Key Role In Largest Environmental Experiment In History Researchers from around the globe participating in the world’s largest environmental science experiment, the Large-Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), will, fittingly, convene in Brazil this week. From July 27-29, some 800 researchers will attend the Third International Scientific Conference of the LBA in Brasilia, Brazil, to discuss key findings on how the world’s largest rainforest impacts the ecological health of Amazonia and the world. Never before has so much information about the Amazon been assembled for presentation at once. LBA is partly funded by NASA. Also, scores of projects that feed the Amazon experiment depend heavily on NASA’s vast expertise in satellite information, computer modeling, and providing infrastructure for large-scale field campaigns. The overall experiment concentrates on how the Amazon forest and land use changes within the region affect the atmosphere, and regional and global climate. … In the Amazon, deforestation, selective logging, fires and forest re-growth all play major roles in the carbon balance. In the Brazilian Amazon region alone, annual clear-cutting and burning of forests cover about 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles or about the area of New Jersey). NASA data products from various instruments on the Landsat series of satellites have documented the history of deforestation in the Amazon since the 1970s. … Burning practices to clear fields for farming often result in fires spreading to adjacent forests. These large fires create air pollution and can contribute to respiratory problems in people. Thick smoke has forced airports to close, and has caused highway accidents. …
9 June 2004. NASA RELEASE : 04-183. NASA Data Shows Deforestation Affects Climate In The Amazon. (alternative address here)
NASA satellite data are giving scientists insight into how large-scale deforestation in the Amazon Basin in South America is affecting regional climate. Researchers found during the Amazon dry season last August, there was a distinct pattern of higher rainfall and warmer temperatures over deforested regions. … The study is in a recent American Meteorological Society Journal of Climate. Lead authors, Andrew Negri and Robert Adler, are research meteorologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt, Md. … “In deforested areas, the land heats up faster and reaches a higher temperature, leading to localized upward motions that enhance the formation of clouds and ultimately produce more rainfall,” Negri said.
November 1998. Tropical Deforestation. NASA Earth Science Enterprise Series, Fact Sheet: FS-1998-11-120-GSFC [2.5MB PDF] The clearing of tropical forests across the Earth has been occuring on a large scale basis for many centuries. This process, known as deforestation, involves the cutting down, burning, and damaging of forests.