By Daniel Grossman
6 June 2016
(Yale e360) – We set off before dawn with my guide, Elton Mendes, steering a battered pickup through the Amazon jungle. He reached a hand out of the window and tugged on a stick tied to the wipers, squeegeeing drizzle off the windshield.
After a short drive, he parked by a concrete slab in a clearing. An orange lattice of steel rose up from the block and disappeared into the canopy far above my head. It is called the Tall Tower, and with good reason: At 1,066 feet — three feet higher than the Eiffel Tower — it’s the tallest structure in South America. It’s also the centerpiece of a three-tower scientific complex — the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory, or ATTO — located 150 miles northeast of the Amazon River’s largest city, Manaus.
When fully outfitted, ATTO’s trio of towers will bristle with gas sniffers, particulate collectors, light sensors, and scores of other instruments that will continuously watch over the forest — and the air above it — for at least the next two to three decades. The Brazilian and German scientists overseeing research at ATTO say that the data collected by these instruments will provide an unprecedented portrait of the role that the Amazon jungle, the world’s largest rainforest, plays in the global carbon cycle — a key finding in an era of climate change. And by taking these measurements — including temperature, wind, greenhouse gases, ozone, radiation, visibility, tree canopy changes, soil temperatures, and soil gas fluxes — scientists will be able to track how global warming is affecting the Amazon, particularly its ability to absorb carbon. […]
The Amazon, a region nearly the size of the U.S., is by far the largest rainforest on earth. Biologists have warned for decades that its prodigious biodiversity was threatened by logging. But more recently, climate scientists have become concerned that global warming may also pose a danger to the forest, possibly by shifting oceanic and atmospheric currents in ways that could lead to a pronounced drying of the Amazon. A study last year suggested that tree mortality in the vast rainforest, possibly related to changing weather patterns, is already reducing its ability to sequester carbon. [more]