Deforestation (above) forest degradation (below) in the Brazilian Amazon, from August 2014 to November 2015. Graphic: Imazon / SAD

(Imazon) – SAD detected 99 square kilometers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in November 2015. That represented a 49% reduction in relation to November 2014 when deforestation totaled 195 square kilometers. It was possible to monitor 80% of the forest area in the Brazilian Amazon, while in November 2014 monitoring covered a smaller area (67%) of the territory.

In November 2015, deforestation was concentrated in Mato Grosso (33%), Pará (24%), Rondônia (19%) and Amazonas (19%), with a lower occurrence in Roraima (2%) and Acre (2%).

Degraded forests in the Brazilian Amazon totaled 362 square kilometers in November 2015. In relation to November 2014 when forest degradation totaled 86 square kilometers, there was a 323% increase.

Deforestation Statistics

According to SAD, deforestation (total suppression of the forest for other alternative land uses) reached 99 square kilometers in November 2015 (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

In November 2015, deforestation was concentrated in Mato Grosso (33%), Pará (24%), Rondônia (19%) and Amazonas (19%), with a lower occurrence in Roraima (2%) and Acre (2%) (Figure 3). The deforestation accumulated during the period from August to November 2015, corresponding to the first four months of the official calendar for measuring deforestation, affected 972 square kilometers. There was a 24% reduction in deforestation in relation to the previous period (August 2014 to November 2014) when it reached 1,278 square kilometers.

Forest Degradation

In November 2015, SAD recorded 362 square kilometers of degraded forests (forests intensely exploited by timber activity and/or burned) (Figures 2 and 4). Of that total, the majority (49%) occurred in Mato Grosso, followed by Pará (37%) and with lower occurrence in Amazonas (7%) and Rondônia (6%). [more]

Deforestation report for the Brazilian Amazon (November 2015) SAD

A health worker fumigates a cemetery in Carabayllo on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, to stem the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Photo: Reuters

By Sarah Boseley
8 February 2016

(Guardian) – A global epidemic far worse than the Ebola outbreak is a real possibility and could kill many millions if the world does not become better prepared to deal with the sudden emergence and transmission of disease, the UN has said in a hard-hitting report.

The report has emerged in draft form, as experts rally to deal with the rapid spread of the Zika virus across Latin America, which has been linked to thousands of cases of brain damage in babies.

Countries in the region have again been caught off-guard because of the lack of scientific knowledge about the virus and the absence of good data on microcephaly, a condition in which babies’ heads fail to grow properly in the womb.

The report comes from the high-level panel on the global response to health crises, set up by the UN secretary general in April 2015, as the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people finally waned. Several other inquiries into what occurred, and the slow and inadequate response by the World Health Organisation (WHO), have reported and fed into the UN panel’s conclusions.

“The high risk of major health crises is widely underestimated, and … the world’s preparedness and capacity to respond is woefully insufficient. Future epidemics could far exceed the scale and devastation of the west Africa Ebola outbreak,” says the panel’s chair, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete from Tanzania, outlining their findings in the preface.

“Too often, global panic about epidemics has been followed by complacency and inaction. For example, the 2009 influenza pandemic prompted a similar review of global preparedness, but most of its recommendations were not addressed. Had they been implemented, thousands of lives could have been saved in west Africa. We owe it to the victims to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.”

The report, which has been posted online in advanced, unedited form in the UN’s Daily Journal, is not just about the mishandling of Ebola, but about the crucial need for the world to put in place systems to detect and fight new disease threats.

“Notwithstanding its devastating impact in west Africa, the Ebola virus is not the most virulent pathogen known to humanity,” says the report. “Mathematical modelling by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has shown that a virulent strain of an airborne influenza virus could spread to all major global capitals within 60 days and kill more than 33 million people within 250 days.” [more]

Millions could die as world unprepared for pandemics, says UN

Aftermath of bushfires in Tasmania's central plateau in January 2016: scorched earth for as far as the eye can see. Photo: Dan Broun

By Michael Slezak
3 February 2016

(Guardian) – A national inquiry into the fires devastating world heritage forests in Tasmania is urgently needed, say conservationists and academics. The call comes as experts say fires like those could be the new normal.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has called for the public inquiry as dozens of fires continue to ravage the world heritage forests and look set to burn for days or weeks to come.

“We need to ask whether or not Parks and Wildlife have adequate resources to implement a policy of actively fighting … remote area fires, especially in sensitive alpine areas,” said Jess Abrahams, an ACF campaigner.

He said fire services did an exceptional job but an inquiry was needed to look into the policies that should exist around fighting fires in remote areas and the resources that would be needed to implement them.

David Bowman from the University of Tasmania agreed an inquiry was required.

“It’s critical,” he told Guardian Australia. He said it was important that it not seek to lay blame on anyone because the current situation was “unprecedented” and could not have been predicted.

When asked whether there would be an inquiry the Tasmanian premier, Will Hodgman, told reporters yesterday there would be “an assessment” with peer reviews done by experts from interstate.

Dozens of fires were still burning inside the world heritage forests in Tasmania, according to the Tasmanian Fire Service.

Bowman said they could continue to burn for 10 or 20 more days and were likely to be made worse by dry and warm conditions that are forecast as a high-pressure system moves through Tasmania. […]

“You’d have to bulldoze strips in the soil but it’s a world heritage area,” Bowman said. “If there was something simple that could be done, it would be done.” […]

“I’m almost certain this is the new normal,” Bowman said. [more]

Call for urgent inquiry into world heritage forest fires in Tasmania

In this file photo taken Wednesday, 1 November 2006, illegal miners dig for diamonds in Marange, Zimbabwe. Photo: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP Photo

By Andrew Mambondiyani; editing by Megan Rowling
8 February 2016

MUTARE, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Shylet Mutsago, a 63-year-old who lives near the diamond fields of Marange, cannot hide her anger over how mining in this gem-rich part of eastern Zimbabwe has failed to improve the lives of local people.

From a distance she watches as companies turn the ground over in search of the alluvial diamonds, releasing clouds of red dust into the sky.

"Our hopes of benefiting from the diamonds are gone," she said. "And with this severe drought we are now placing our lives in the hands of God. We are living close to these diamond mines, yet we are starving."

As crops fail due to a lack of rain, some villagers can no longer afford even one proper meal a day, and are surviving on wild fruits like baobab, Mutsago said.

Amid frequent drought, people in Marange had hoped the diamond industry would invest in reviving irrigation schemes. National law requires mining companies to help local communities develop.

Though prone to dry spells, the situation in Marange has been exacerbated by the current El Niño weather phenomenon, which has brought drought to large swathes of Zimbabwe.

The government has declared a state of disaster in most rural parts of the country, saying that 2.44 million people - around a quarter of the population - need food aid.

Irrigation schemes in and around Marange, most constructed decades ago, are no longer operating properly as small-scale farmers cannot pay to maintain or replace aging equipment.

"Just a few diamond stones could have helped change our lives, but no one seems to care," said Mutsago.

Her frustration is shared by many in Marange, an area home to over 80,000 people.

Malvern Mudiwa said the drought was so serious that villagers had no idea how they would survive through the year. [more]

Surrounded by diamonds, villagers go hungry in drought-hit Zimbabwe

Great Lakes ice coverage during the first week of February, 2007-2016. Graphic: AccuWeather

By Brian Lada
8 February 2016

(AccuWeather) – The El Niño-influenced weather pattern over the past several months has brought above-normal temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast, causing the ice coverage on the Great Lakes to be significantly lower than it has been over the past two winters.

As of 2 February 2016, the total ice coverage on the Great Lakes was less than 6 percent, just a fraction of what it was at the start of February in 2014 and 2015, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL).

During the past two winters, early intrusions of arctic air paired with the persistence of below-normal temperatures caused ice to develop and to expand across large areas of the lakes by the middle of the winter.

However, the weather pattern during the first half of this winter has been significantly different, favoring temperatures near to above normal across the region. As a result, only a small amount of ice has been able to form on the Great Lakes.

"It was a warm November followed by an incredibly warm December and it has contributed to the lack of ice on the Great Lakes," AccuWeather Meteorologist Todd Miner said.

Miner added that the weather did turn colder in January, allowing ice to form on parts of the lakes finally. However, temperatures still ran near to above normal, preventing a rapid accumulation of ice. […]

The lack of ice on the Great Lakes this year has benefited industries around the region that rely on shipping to transport good and materials.

"The ice can hurt commerce and has affected the length of the shipping season on the Great Lakes," Miner said. "When Lake Erie is full of ice, they're not going to be sending any ships through there." [more]

Great Lakes nearly devoid of ice as El Nino-influenced warmth dominates early winter

The 'Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Scrub' biome experienced some of the highest rates of interior forest loss, according to the analysis of Riitters, et al., 2016. Australasia (consisting of Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand) was the most affected region for this biome, losing almost a quarter of its interior tree cover from 2000 to 2012. Data from Global Forest Watch indicate the forests of southwestern Australia are losing ground particularly rapidly, with the area shown in the inset losing around 34 percent of its tree cover from 2001 through 2014. Graphic: Global Forest Watch

By Mike Gaworecki
4 February 2016

( – Recent research by the U.S. Forest Service finds that the world lost interior forest at three times the rate of forest loss as a whole. They write that this fragmentation could severely jeopardize the ability of remaining forests to provide critical wildlife habitat and other ecological functions.

In total, the team found there was a global a net loss of 1.71 million square kilometers of forest cover from 2000 to 2012 — 3.2 percent of total global forest area.

But the Forest Service researchers argue that focusing on forest area loss alone risks ignoring the ecological threats of forest fragmentation. In addition to the direct loss of forest, they found a “widespread shift” in the world’s remaining forests to a more fragmented condition.

They calculated a net loss of 3.76 million square kilometers of interior forest area amounting to 9.9 percent of global interior forest cover, according to their study in the journal Landscape Ecology [pdf].

It may seem counter-intuitive that there can be more interior forest loss than total forest loss, but depending on the spatial distribution of deforestation, it’s entirely possible to have more forest area converted to “edge conditions” — say, when a road is built through a forest that penetrates its interior, converting the former heart of the forest into a new forest edge — than the total amount of forest that was destroyed.

The researchers’ findings indicate that the world’s interior forest cover was lost at a rate three times higher than global forest area as a whole was lost — and this could have important consequences for ecological processes.

Kurt Riitters, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center and the lead author of the study, told Mongabay, “Some natural ecological goods and services are provided only by interior conditions, and some are adversely impacted by ecological ‘edge effects’ that occur in non-interior conditions.”

In other words, as forests become fragmented by the building of roads and other human activities as well as natural drivers of deforestation like wildfires, the proportion of interior forest generally decreases and the proportion of edge area increases. And Riitters said that leads to two kinds of risks: the loss of ecosystem functions that require interior conditions, and the degradation of functions that are sensitive to edge conditions. [more]

Researchers find the world’s forests are fragmenting at a quick pace

Net changes in forest area (top) and forest interior area (middle) by ecological region from 2000 through 2012. Terrestrial ecological regions are shaded according to net changes, using the same legend to facilitate comparisons. Graphic: Riitters, et al., 2016 / Landscape Ecology

Research Triangle Park, NC, 28 January 2016 (USDA) – Between 2000 and 2012, the world lost more forest area than it gained, according to U.S. Forest Service researchers and partners who estimated a global net loss of 1.71 million square kilometers of forest—an area about two and a half times the size of Texas. Furthermore, when researchers analyzed patterns of remaining forest, they found a global loss of interior forest—core areas that, when intact, maintain critical habitat and ecological functions.

"In addition to the direct loss of forest, there was a widespread shift of the remaining global forest to a more fragmented condition," explains Kurt Riitters, a research ecologist and team leader with the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center and the lead author of a study describing the phenomenon, published in the January 2016 issue of Landscape Ecology [pdf]. 

Forest area loss alone underestimates ecological risks from forest fragmentation. The spatial pattern of forest is important because the same area of forest can be arranged in different ways on the landscape with important consequences for ecosystem processes. In contrast to core areas of interior forest, non-interior forest edge areas are subject to impacts from invasive species, pollution, and variation in soil moisture, for example.

To understand where interior forest has been lost and therefore where risks from forest fragmentation might be greatest, the researchers used global tree cover data to map the forests of 2000 and 2012 and examined the patterns of change across ecological regions and biomes. Their analysis revealed a net loss of 3.76 million square kilometers of interior forest area, or about ten percent of interior forest—more than twice the global net loss of forest area. The rate at which interior forest area was lost was more than three times the rate of global forest area loss.

All forest biomes experienced a net loss of interior forest area during the study period. Across the globe, temperate coniferous forests experienced the largest percentage of loss, tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests lost the most area of interior forest, and boreal forests and taiga lost interior forest at the highest rate. Researchers note that the reasons for losses, and therefore the consequences, depend on local circumstances. Human activities and land use changes that result in permanent deforestation have a much greater impact than temporary deforestation from natural disturbances, such as a fire. 

Monitoring remains an important tool to provide early warnings of forests at risk of reaching a tipping point, and the results of this study can inform and focus conservation and management decisions in areas of concern. "As forest area is lost and the remainder becomes more fragmented, the remaining forest may no longer function as interior forest," explains Riitters. "Sustaining forest interior is arguably as important as sustaining forest itself."

The study's coauthors include James Wickham, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Jennifer Costanza, North Carolina State University/Eastern Threat Center; and Peter Vogt, European Commission Joint Research Centre.

Access the full text of the article at

Landscape Pattern Analysis Reveals Global Loss of Interior Forest


Context: Published maps of global tree cover derived from Landsat data have indicated substantial changes in forest area from 2000 to 2012. The changes can be arranged in different patterns, with different consequences for forest fragmentation. Thus, the changes in forest area do not necessarily equate to changes in forest sustainability.

Objective: The objective is to assess global and regional changes in forest fragmentation in relation to the change of forest area from 2000 to 2012.

Methods: Using published global tree cover data, forest and forest interior areas were mapped in 2000 and 2012. The locations of forest interior change were compared to the locations of overall forest change to identify the direct (pixel level) and indirect (landscape level) components of forest interior change. The changes of forest interior area were compared to the changes of total forest area in each of 768 ecological regions.

Results: A 1.71 million km2 (3.2 %) net loss of global forest area translated to a net loss of 3.76 million km2 (9.9 %) of forest interior area. The difference in loss rates was consistent in most of the 768 ecological regions. The indirect component accounted for 2.44 million km2 of the net forest interior change, compared to 1.32 million km2 that was attributable to the direct component.

Conclusion: Forest area loss alone from 2000 to 2012 underestimates ecological risks from forest fragmentation. In addition to the direct loss of forest, there was a widespread shift of the remaining global forest to a more fragmented condition.

A global evaluation of forest interior area dynamics using tree cover data from 2000 to 2012

Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a visit to CSIRO in December 2015. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

[This is a disaster. CSIRO is a world-class research organization for climate science, on par with the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Research, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research. Crippling Australia’s climate science capability deals a significant blow to humanity’s struggle to survive our greatest existential threat: abrupt climate change. –Des]

By Peter Hannam
4 February 2016

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Fears that some of Australia's most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists.

Fairfax Media has learnt that as many as 110 positions in the Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similarly sharp reduction in the Land and Water division.

Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff, with the Data61 and Manufacturing divisions also hit.

The cuts were flagged in November, just a week before the Paris climate summit began, with key divisions told to prepare lists of job cuts or to find new ways to raise revenue.

"Climate will be all gone, basically," one senior scientist said before the announcement. […]

It is understood just 30 staff will be left in the Oceans and Atmosphere unit and they will not be working on climate issues related to basic data gathering.

"This staggering attack on climate science is an act of political vandalism, pure and simple, and if the government doesn't back down on this it's ordinary Australians who will ultimately pay the price," Nadine Flood, national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, said. […]

Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW, said the scale of the cuts was "jaw-droppingly shocking". 

"It's a catastrophic reduction in our capacity to assess present and future climate change," Professor Pitman said. "It will leave us vulnerable to future climate change and unable to take advantage of any positives that result."

The impact will extend not just to the science being conducted in and around Australia but also to the ability of the country to retain and attract scientists, he said. 

"They will focus on North American and European problems [when they go], not Australia's," Professor Pitman said. […]

The cuts had "the potential to devastate climate science in Australia", Todd Lane, president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, said.

"Not only does CSIRO play a key role in climate monitoring, it underpins all of the climate modelling activity in Australia," Associate Professor Lane said.

"If that is cut significantly, it will set us back at least a decade and will undermine our ability to predict future climate risk." [more]

Climate science to be gutted as CSIRO swings jobs axe

By Adam Morton, Peter Hannam, and Marcus Strom
5 February 2016

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Australia will break a commitment made at the Paris climate summit less than two months ago if CSIRO goes ahead with its plan to axe its research programs, one of the agency's leading scientists has warned.

John Church, a globally recognised expert on sea level rise and one of CSIRO's most decorated researchers, said organisation chief Larry Marshall had misled the public by claiming there was now less need for climate research because the problem had been "proven".

It came as US scientist James Hansen, sometimes described as the father of climate change awareness, suggested the decision to cut the jobs was wrong.  

Dr Marshall announced via email on Thursday that 350 jobs would go over two years as the organisation moved away from observing and modelling climate change to working on solutions to the problem.

Details of the cuts have not been finalised, but it is understood one of the world's three major atmospheric greenhouse gas recording stations at Cape Grim, in Tasmania's north-west, is under threat. It is the only station of its type in the southern hemisphere.

The future of programs run by the $120 million RV Investigator research ship, launched amid fanfare in late 2014, are among those that are unclear.

CSIRO staff were forthright in their unhappiness at the cuts at briefings at midday on Friday, describing it as a flawed strategy.

About 100 jobs are planned to go from units dedicated to research in areas including greenhouse gas levels, sea level rise, ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and assessing what is required to keep global warming to two degrees. The jobs would be replaced by new positions in other areas.

Dr Church, who has worked at CSIRO since 1978 and expects to lose his job, said the cuts would make it difficult for Australia to uphold its part of the Paris deal, which agreed there should be greater investment in climate research, including improved observations and early warning systems.

He said the work of CSIRO was considered particularly important because of Australia's role as the major developed country in the southern hemisphere, with a focus on Antarctica and the Pacific.

"There is need for climate science – there are clauses in the Paris agreement that say that. There is a clear need for ongoing sustained and enhanced observations. The science community is actually struggling to address these issues already and so further cuts mean it will be very difficult."

"That's at variance with what the chief executive has been saying, that climate science is done. That's clearly not the case – it's inaccurate, misleading information." […]

Dozens of scientists issued statements in response to Dr Marshall's announcement. Many were incensed by the former venture capitalist's suggestion that climate change science was a narrow field that had been "proven" to be a problem, and therefore no longer needed to be a focus.

Dr Church said it was true climate change was proven, but more detail was needed if the world was going to adapt.

"To talk about it being a narrow science is completely inaccurate – it's a very broad area. It would be great if CSIRO could invest in mitigation. I don't see any signs it is doing that significantly."

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist known for his testimony to US Congress in 1988 that arguably put concern about climate change on the map, said he was stunned by the announcement.

"Holy shit! That is unbelievable," he said. "Is a conservative denier government in power?

"This seems to be a clear-cut case of shooting the messenger with the bad news. However, the messenger is needed to figure out what to do about the problem." [more]

'Misleading, inaccurate and in breach of Paris': CSIRO scientist criticises cuts

Estimating the likelihood of the observed recent global warming trend. Historical Northern Hemisphere mean temperatures (black solid) along with the estimated natural component alone (black dashed) and five of the surrogates (colored curves) for the natural component. Graphic: Michael Mann / RealClimate

By Michael Mann
25 January 2016

(RealClimate) – With the official numbers now in 2015 is, by a substantial margin, the new record-holder, the warmest year in recorded history for both the globe and the Northern Hemisphere. The title was sadly short-lived for previous record-holder 2014. And 2016 could be yet warmer if the current global warmth persists through the year.

One might well wonder: just how likely is it that we would be seeing these sort of streaks of record-breaking temperatures if not for human-caused warming of the planet?

Precisely that question was posed by several media organizations a year ago, in the wake of the then-record 2014 temperatures. Various press accounts reported odds anywhere from 1-in-27 million to 1-in-650 million that the observed run of global temperature records (9 of the 10 warmest years and 13 of the 15 warmest years each having had occurred since 2000) might have resulted from chance alone, i.e. without any assistance from human-caused global warming.

My colleagues and I suspected the odds quoted were way too slim. The problem is that each year was treated as though it were statistically independent of neighboring years (i.e. that each year is uncorrelated with the year before it or after it), but that’s just not true. Temperatures don’t vary erratically from one year to the next. Natural variations in temperature wax and wane over a period of several years.

For example, we’ve had a couple very warm years in a row now due in part to El Niño-ish conditions that have persisted since late 2013 and it is likely that the current El Niño event will boost 2016 temperatures as well. That is an example of a natural variation that is internally-generated. There are also natural variations in temperature that are externally-caused or ‘forced’, e.g. the multi-year cooling impact of large, explosive volcanic eruptions like the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, or the small-but-measurable changes in solar output that occur on timescales of a decade or longer. Each of these natural sources of temperature variation lead to correlations in temperature from one year to the next that would be present even in the absence of global warming. These correlations must be taken into account to get reliable answers to the questions being posed. [more]

How Likely Is The Observed Recent Warmth?

A flooded gold mine in Madre de Dios, Peru. The study reviewed multiple human impacts on freshwater ecosystems, including dam-building, mining, land-cover change, and climate change. Individually, each of these can cause harm and alter how the ecosystem functions, but the scientists warn that they will also interact, with 'the potential to trigger cascading effects that can significantly degrade these freshwater ecosystems.' Photo: Claire Salisbury

By Claire Salisbury
1 February 2016

( – The Amazon’s freshwater ecosystems are at risk because current policy and existing protected areas fail to protect the connectivity of the water cycle, scientists warn. The new study, published in Global Change Biology, examines the factors degrading the Amazon basin’s hydrological connectivity: the movement of water — and with it the life-giving matter, nutrients and organisms it carries — between the vast system’s headwaters and the Atlantic Ocean, between the rivers and the forest, and the earth and the atmosphere.

Such connectivity is fundamental to ecosystem health, as it regulates how ecosystems function, the scientists say. The Amazon’s freshwater ecosystems, which cover an area of 1 million square kilometers (386,102 square miles), play crucial roles in regulating climate, transporting nutrients, maintaining water quality, supporting biodiversity, and providing food and fiber, so-called ecosystem services that benefit local, regional and global communities.

If hydrological connectivity is disrupted then the ecosystem can no longer function in the same way and these services may be diminished. This is the danger facing the Amazon.

Lead author Leandro Castello originally studied oceanography, and now works on the conservation of Amazon fish and fisheries, both of which are suffering from habitat change and degradation. “In oceanography they teach you that everything is connected — via water — to everything else. A forested, tropical river basin is not too different: what happens to the trees affects the streams and rivers, and what happens in the headwaters affects everything downstream,” Castello, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, told Mongabay.

“Everything downstream” can extend for thousands of miles in Amazonia, and include multiple nations and regions with vastly different levels of land and river protection. This political fragmentation makes it difficult to put in place effective basin-wide strategies against ecosystem degradation. “Protected areas [in the Amazon] have limited capacity to protect freshwater ecosystems because they were implemented based on data for terrestrial organisms largely ignoring hydrological connectivity,” Castello explained.

The study examined the impacts of four major drivers of change to the hydrological cycle in the Amazon: dams, mining, land-cover change, and climate change. The scope of the damage being done by these human-caused drivers turned out to be even larger than Castello anticipated. “The surprise was finding how many very strong impacts to the integrity of freshwater ecosystems are happening at such large geographical scale, and yet our policy tools to curb them are less than small,” he warned. […]

If basin-wide research and action is not taken, “the consequences are so overwhelming that they are hard to explain,” Castello said. In their paper, the authors outline the broad implications, saying that individual impacts have “the potential to trigger cascading effects that can significantly degrade these freshwater ecosystems. If current trends continue, more tributary basins will be degraded, compromising ecosystem services such as biodiversity maintenance, water quality, flow regulation, C [carbon] cycling, and food production.” [more]

Imperiled Amazon freshwater ecosystems urgently need basin-wide study, management

ABSTRACT: Hydrological connectivity regulates the structure and function of Amazonian freshwater ecosystems and the provisioning of services that sustain local populations. This connectivity is increasingly being disrupted by the construction of dams, mining, land-cover changes, and global climate change. This review analyzes these drivers of degradation, evaluates their impacts on hydrological connectivity, and identifies policy deficiencies that hinder freshwater ecosystem protection. There are 154 large hydroelectric dams in operation today, and 21 dams under construction. The current trajectory of dam construction will leave only three free-flowing tributaries in the next few decades if all 277 planned dams are completed. Land-cover changes driven by mining, dam and road construction, agriculture and cattle ranching have already affected ~20% of the Basin and up to ~50% of riparian forests in some regions. Global climate change will likely exacerbate these impacts by creating warmer and dryer conditions, with less predictable rainfall and more extreme events (e.g., droughts and floods). The resulting hydrological alterations are rapidly degrading freshwater ecosystems, both independently and via complex feedbacks and synergistic interactions. The ecosystem impacts include biodiversity loss, warmer stream temperatures, stronger and more frequent floodplain fires, and changes to biogeochemical cycles, transport of organic and inorganic materials, and freshwater community structure and function. The impacts also include reductions in water quality, fish yields, and availability of water for navigation, power generation, and human use. This degradation of Amazonian freshwater ecosystems cannot be curbed presently because existing policies are inconsistent across the Basin, ignore cumulative effects, and overlook the hydrological connectivity of freshwater ecosystems. Maintaining the integrity of these freshwater ecosystems requires a basinwide research and policy framework to understand and manage hydrological connectivity across multiple spatial scales and jurisdictional boundaries.

Large-scale degradation of Amazonian freshwater ecosystems


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