The Long Hot Summer: Researchers Are Starting to Make Sense of a Severe Drought That Ravaged the Amazon Rainforest Four Years Ago. Their Findings Are Terrifying

By Brown, Paul | The Washington Monthly, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

The Long Hot Summer: Researchers Are Starting to Make Sense of a Severe Drought That Ravaged the Amazon Rainforest Four Years Ago. Their Findings Are Terrifying


Brown, Paul, The Washington Monthly


In the summer of 2005, the Amazon rainforest suffered the worst drought it had seen in a century. Whole tributaries of the Amazon River dried up, leaving ferries stranded on dried-up mud and hundreds of thousands of dead fish in stagnant pools, robbing local people of their main source of protein. Local farmers, their river routes too parched to transport goods, watched their crops rot on the docks. So dire was the situation that in October of that year, the governor of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in the heart of the rainforest, declared the situation a "public calamity."

But for one group of people--scientists--the crisis provided an opportunity. Although the Amazon is vital to the future health of the climate, and therefore mankind, it remains a region of unanswered scientific questions, and the drought was a chance to pry loose some of its secrets. No one was better positioned to do this than Oliver Phillips, a professor of geography at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Working with sixty-five collaborators, many of them from Amazonian countries, Phillips has spent a quarter century studying how the world's largest forest reacts to changing weather patterns, a project that entails monitoring 136 sites in forty-four distinct ecosystems and collecting heaps of data on everything from tree diameter to wood density and species mix. This means he was able to bring rigorous scientific analysis to bear on a crucial question that had previously been relegated to the realm of informed speculation: How does the rainforest respond to extreme drought?

Phillips's findings, which were published earlier this year in the journal Science, are sobering. The world's forests are an enormous carbon sink, meaning they absorb massive quantities of carbon dioxide, through the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. In normal years the Amazon alone absorbs three billion tons of carbon, more than twice the quantity human beings produce by burning fossil fuels. But during the 2005 drought, this process was reversed, and the Amazon gave off two billion tons of carbon in stead, creating an additional five billion tons of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. That's more than the total annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined.

The drought was not evenly spread across the vast expanses of the Amazon, but in the worst affected areas there was severe dieback. Some trees stopped growing, others lost their leaves, and many of the fastest-growing trees and creepers died altogether. Perhaps more surprising, comparing exact measurements of tree diameter, wood density, and biomass against measurements taken in earlier years, Phillips and his colleagues found that even in places that seemed to emerge relatively unscathed--where the forest looked no different to the naked eye-there had been a loss of biomass. Rainforests, it seems, are more sensitive to drought than was previously understood. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Long Hot Summer: Researchers Are Starting to Make Sense of a Severe Drought That Ravaged the Amazon Rainforest Four Years Ago. Their Findings Are Terrifying
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.