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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Project will assess Amazon’s future

    A United Kingdom climate model predicts the catastrophic dissolution of the Amazon rainforest beginning in the middle of this century.

    Newly funded, a UA project involving graduate students and faculty is set to find out just how bad the damage is so far in the world’s largest rainforest – and predict its future given rising global temperatures.

    The National Science Foundation on Nov. 16 awarded the UA $2.5 million to use for research involving the effects of climate change on the Amazon, over a period of five years.

    Scott Saleska, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, is the principal investigator heading up the Amazon Partnerships for International Research and Education – also known as Amazonia.

    A climate model developed at the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in the United Kingdom predicts the climate-driven destruction of the Amazon playing out over the course of one or two decades, Saleska said.

    He called the scenario a “”catastrophe.””

    Working in conjunction with the UA and Harvard University researchers specializing in vegetation, science and Latin America, the project will recruit graduate students to conduct field studies on the ground in the Amazon.

    The students will monitor changes in vegetation and climate using a variety of methods, including remote sensing through satellite imagery, Saleska said.

    Once the graduate students complete their fieldwork, they will return to the UA to turn their data into models, said Joellen Russell, a geosciences professor and member of Amazonia.

    About $1.5 million will fund three UA and two Harvard graduate students and one post-doctoral fellow per year, Saleska said.

    The collapse of the Amazon could exacerbate the rate of global climate change, Saleska and Russell said. They pointed to the vast amount of carbon dioxide the rainforest sucks from the atmosphere and stores.

    The Amazon contains 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide, constituting a decade’s worth of global emissions at their current rate, Saleska said.

    On top of the destructive effect of rising temperatures, deforestation in the rainforest is being pushed by Japan and Europe to facilitate large-scale production of soybeans, he said.

    “”If you perturb the system enough by deforesting part of it, it will trigger a local climate change that will cause a drought that will cause the loss of the rest of it,”” Saleska said.

    “”If (the carbon) were lost because of drought-induced collapse … as predicted by this model, this would be a big boost, rather than a sink of carbon, which most people think it is now.””

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