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Brazil is Building a Giant Observation Tower in the Amazon Rainforest to Monitor Climate Change

The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory will stand at 325 meters high and is being deployed to an area 100 miles outside of Manaus.

by Kayla Ruble
Sep 15 2014, 6:15pm

Photo by S. Benner, MPI for Chemistry

Amid a historic drought in parts of Brazil and rising rates of deforestation in what is one of the world's most vulnerable and important ecosystems, scientists and researchers are now moving forward with a project of large proportions in the center of the country's Amazon rainforest to observe the effects of climate change.

A steel observatory tower standing 325 meters high is now being erected in an area 100 miles outside of the state capital city of Manaus in order to cull data related to weather, carbon gas, winds, and cloud formation.

The brainchild of Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research and Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, now seven years in development, has been deployed from southern Brazil on trucks and rafts.

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"The tower will help us answer innumerable questions related to global climate change," Paulo Artaxo, the University of Sao Paulo's project coordinator for the tower, told the BBC.

Joining smaller observation towers already in the area, the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory will allow for monitoring changes in air masses with a coverage area of hundreds of miles.

"The measurement point is widely without direct human influence, and therefore ideal to investigate the meaning of the forest region for the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere," the project coordinator for the Max Planck Institute, Jurgen Kesselmeier, said in a statement.

Construction sketch of the tip of the ATTO-tower. Image via SAN and MPI for Chemistry

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News of the massive tower comes just as the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo is experiencing one of the worst droughts in more than 40 years — reportedly caused by the disappearance of the Amazon's "flying rivers."

Flying rivers, consisting of moisture emitted from trees and carried by clouds of vapor that rise out of the rainforest, are a major source of rain for south and central Brazil. According to research from Brazil's Flying Rivers Project, the "flow" of water from the disappearing weather event could be stronger than that of the Amazon River.

As the vapor masses move from the rainforest they are pushed south, but data from Brazil's National Space Research Institute shows these weather patterns did not appear during January and February of this year, the Guardian reported. Some experts have attributed the issue to climate change and deforestation.

According to a National Geographic report, the Flying Rivers Project researchers determined that a single tree in the Amazon can emit more than 300 liters of water each day, which subsequently evaporates and is transported by flying rivers.

"So if the trees are chopped down, the rainfall rates could be reduced through this mechanism," Helene Muri, a researcher at the University of Oslo's geoscience department, told the magazine.

Deforestation, largely a result of the country's logging industry, grew 10 percent between July 2013 and August 2014. This piggybacked onto an increase in the deforestation rate of 28 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, when more than 2,000 miles of rainforest were affected. The highest level of deforestation occurred in 2004, with more than 10,000 square miles decimated.

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Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB

Image via Flickr