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Amazonian Forest Key to Global Climate
Brazilian rain forest most complex natural system of the planet
Jose Luiz Viana Do Couto (jviana)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-27 17:59 (KST)   
The Brazilian Amazonia is important for its area (4.8 million square kilometers), location (it is intersected by the Equator), water volume (the biggest watershed and river on the planet) and biodiversity.

The Earth's climate depends on some climatic controls, of which the most important are: the solar constant (the amount of solar energy that reaches the "top" of the atmosphere, which corresponds to 700 cal/cm2/day), the distribution of continents and oceans with their albedos (reflectivity of solar energy), and the general circulation of the atmosphere (movement of the air masses due to the Earth's rotation).

Along the equatorial belt located between the southern latitudes of zero and thirty degrees, there are only 4 regions in the globe where great air masses ascend into the atmosphere, thus keeping the global climate steady: at Indonesia and the north of Australia, in the Congo basin in Africa, and at the Amazon basin in Brazil. These regions function as heat sources for the general circulation of the atmosphere, as well as the Convergence Intertropical Zone (CIZ) -- the region where the Alisian winds of the two hemispheres meet, provoking the ascension of air masses.

However, according to Science Today magazine (Number 48, november/88, SBPC), a continental region like Brazil possesses other climatic controls, such as the nature of ground covering, the hydrologic cycle, and the coastal oceanic currents such as El Nino.

On a regional basis, the Amazonian forest influences precipitation volume, temperature stabilization, the maintenance of humidity on the ground, water erosion and atmospheric carbon capture.

Carbon, when joined with oxygen, forms a poisonous product called carbonic gas or CO2, one of main gases responsible for the Greenhouse Effect, or global heating. This phenomenon can increase air temperature, provoking thawing at the polar regions, increased seas level, and flooding in littoral cities.

On the other hand, vegetation removes CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. But this gas can return to the atmosphere, either by natural processes (breathing and decomposition of dead organic matter) or artificial ones (deforestation and forest fires). In the case of Brazil, these phenomena account for about 3 percent of the change of global climate and 75 percent of the country's contribution to global warming.

According to Carlos Nobre, cited in the Brazilian version of the previous site and scientific coordinator of the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA) and current coordinator of the Weather Forecast Center and Climatic Studies of INPE, the Amazonian forest removes from the atmosphere about 6 kg of carbon per hectare per day, representing 850 million tons of carbon per year.

Although the Amazonian forest still covers about 40 percent of Brazilian territory, large alterations in vegetation covering (deforestation) were registered in the last 40 years. It started with the opening of the Transamazonica highway and creation of grasslands for cattle in the 1960s, and continues today with forest clearing to plant sugarcane and soy, gold exploration and industrial mining, the construction of hydropower plants (which flood large areas), and illegal sales of logs.

©2006 UNEP

According to Carlos Nobre and Eneas Salati (Managing Technician of the Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development - FBDS), until the beginning of the 1970's decade, deforestation of the Amazon, the biggest tropical forest of the planet, was of the order of 1 percent. Today, already it surpasses 650,000 km2, equivalent to the area of the States of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Espirito Santo, or to France and South Korea combined.

The National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has been operating the Brazilian Amazonian Forest Monitoring Project by Satellite (PRODES) since 1988. The Project relies on the contribution of the Ministry of the Environment and the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA) and is financed by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT).

Once the satellite detects deforestation or a forest fire, IBAMA's inspectors fly to the place, seize the logs and fine those responsible. Although the pace of deforestation is diminishing, it seems that this is not the sufficient. For the Brazilian environmentalist Paulo Nogueira Neto (84), who was the first Special Secretary of Environment of the country, only the Army can end Amazonia deforestation.

A scene on the Amazon
©2006 cesarpb
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jose Luiz Viana Do Couto

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