Amazon scientists simulate the impact of global warming on the jungle
Not far from this area northwest of Manaus, Brazil, scientists are conducting tests in the Amazon rainforest to determine the impact of global warming
Deep in the Amazon, an experiment is taking place that could peek into the future to see what will happen to the world’s largest rainforest when carbon dioxide levels rise.
It’s a simulation to see how the world’s lungs will withstand global warming.
The AmazonFACE project, co-funded by Brazil and the United Kingdom, is “an open-air laboratory that will allow us to understand how the rainforest will behave in future climate change scenarios”, explains Carlos Quesada, one of the coordinators of the project.
Quesada stands at the base of a metal tower that protrudes through the rainforest canopy at a site 80 kilometers north of Manaus in northwestern Brazil.
Sixteen other towers arranged in a circle around it will “pump” CO2 into the ring, replicating the levels that can occur with global warming.
“How will the rainforest respond to rising temperatures, reduced water availability, in a world with more carbon in the atmosphere?” asks Quesada, a researcher at an Amazonian research institute that is part of Brazil’s science and technology ministry.
– ‘Window on the future’ –
The technology known as FACE (Free Air CO2 Enrichment) has previously been used to study the impact on forests in Australia, the US and the UK, but never in a tropical rainforest.
By 2024, six “carbon rings” will pump CO2 – one of the causes of global warming – at a concentration 40-50% higher than today.
For a decade, researchers will analyze the processes occurring in the cycles of leaves, roots, soil, water and nutrients.
“We will have more accurate projections of how the Amazon rainforest can help fight climate change through its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. In addition, it will help us understand how the rainforest will be affected by these changes,” said David Lapola, a researcher at the University of Campinas who coordinates the project with Quesada.
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Increased carbon in the atmosphere can lead to the creation of grasslands, or savannas, where the Amazon rainforest once thrived, with vegetation better adapted to higher temperatures and longer droughts.
But CO2 could also “fertilize” the forest and make it temporarily more resistant to these changes.
“It’s a positive scenario, at least for a short period, a period for us to get to zero emissions policies, to keep temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees centigrade,” Quesada said.
The project “is a window into the future. You open the window and look at what could happen in 30 years,” he says.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for ambitious action to counter global warming again this year.
According to its latest March report, global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the decades after 2030, leading to irreversible loss of ecosystems.
Coinciding with global warming is the impact of human-caused deforestation in the Amazon.
A landmark 2018 study by scientists Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre found that the Amazon is rushing towards a tipping point where savannahs begin to replace rainforest.
They said this would happen with a deforestation of 20-25% of the Amazon territory. Currently, deforestation stands at 15%.
– UK-Brazil cooperation –
AmazonFACE, coordinated by the University of Campinas and the Brazilian Ministry of Science, is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the British Meteorological Service (MET office).
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited the facilities this week and announced a new contribution of 2 million pounds ($2.4 million) to the project, which since 2021 has already received 7.3 million pounds from the United Kingdom.
Brazil, for its part, invested 32 million reais ($6.4 million).