Amazon Tower and Megadroughts?

Aerial Observations

There is a new tall tower observatory standing high above the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon creates half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere and the new Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) is designed as an earth-atmosphere monitoring station. The Brazilian National Institute of Amazonian Research (Inpa) in Manaus has teamed up with the Max Planck Institute in Germany to create the structure that is 325 metres tall. That is taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The key aim of the tower is scientific and it will measure the following themes:

  1. chemical changes to the atmosphere
  2. the formation of clouds
  3. the effect of global warming has on photosynthesis by plants

The tower will make it possible to investigate the alteration and movement of air masses through the forest over a distance of several hundred kilometres. It’s site has been chosen to be in a pristine area that is unlikely to impacted by man made pollution and deforestation. As the Amazon is one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, with a powerful influence on the intake and release of carbon into the atmosphere, this monitoring project should allow a much greater understanding of the relationships between the biosphere and atmosphere.

During the past decade in the state of Amazonas there have been two severe floods and two severe droughts. 320,000 people in 39 districts have been affected by flooding and a state of emergency has been called because of annual flooding caused by rising river levels. Sao Paulo has at the same time been suffering a historical drought. There is additional energy in the atmosphere in the region that has led to areas trees being blown over.

A similar tower, the Zotto tower, has been built in Siberia in 2006 also by the Max Planck Institute. That tower aims to study “Biogeochemical Responses to Rapid Climate Changes in Eurasia”. Further details of the Amazon tower (ATTO) can be read on this news article. It should be up and running later this summer.

Californian MegaDrought?

California is experiencing the worst drought for 1200 years according to this report. Historically the drought is severe: there has been no three-year period when California’s rainfall has been as low and its temperatures as hot as they have been from 2012 to 2014. A prolonged period of low precipitation has been termed a megadrought if it lasts for two decades. The Californian drought is not strictly a megadrought as it has been present for the last 15 years. Rainfall deficits have been built up over the past two or three years. Cities are suffering a significant shortfall in rainfall: San Jose would typically receive 108.9cm (42.9 inches) of rain during an average three-year period. Over the period between June 2011 and June 2014 it received around 53% of its average rainfall (just 57.9cm or 22.8 inches of rain). Other cities are showing similar patterns where rainfall is well below the average level.

Recent tree ring data (dendrochronological records) have shown, when compared with the North American Drought Atlas, no other period with as little rainfall and as hot of temperatures as 2012-2014 time frame. The detailed collection of other tree-ring data that goes back 1,200 years and showed 37 other periods of three-year dry periods in California. Tree rings are environmental markers and show different levels of growth based upon the prevailing weather conditions.

Lake Mead, the man-made lake behind the Hoover Dam on the Nevada and Arizona border, is only 38% full. It has not been this low since it was built in the 1930s according to this New Scientist report. The low water levels are likely to impact the hydropower generating capacity and water rationing will affect Arizona and Nevada states.

94 percent of California is in a state of severe drought according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies. The current conditions are likely to become more frequent with the impact of climate change. The conditions have implications for agricultural production as well as wider water resource provision. It seems as if the megadrought is not yet confirmed as it needs to run for another five years. The recently predicted El Nino weather events (a warming of the Pacific Ocean as part of a complex ocean-atmosphere interaction cycle) may change the situation perhaps? It could lead to a wetter period in the state.


About mappedit

Geographical practitioner with an interest in climate change, open mapping, sustainability, the transition movement, transport and many other things.
This entry was posted in Agriculture, America, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Earth Science, flood, Geography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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