Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Sahara Desert and Amazon Basin - "Achilles’ heels" in Earth’s armour

26.08.2004


What do the Amazon Basin and Sahara Desert have in common? They are intricately linked by dust and climate and both belong to a family of hotspots or “Achilles’ heels” that have a profound impact on the global environment, says Professor John Schellnhuber, speaking at the EuroScience Forum in Stockholm today.



Dust from the Sahara Desert fertilises the Amazon, increasing the abundance of life there, says Professor Schellnhuber, IGBP* Science Ambassador and Director of the UK-based Tyndall Climate Centre. “This process has been going on for thousands of years and is one reason why the Amazon Basin teems with life”.

Both regions are also being affected by climate change, though in opposite ways. It is predicted that global warming will reduce rainfall in the region initiating a major dieback of the forests in the Amazon. Once begun, this process will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Deforestation through human land use will exacerbate the situation.


For the Sahara, though, current climate models predict that global warming could trigger a greening of the desert, reducing the amount of dust that it produces.

“This creates the peculiar and disturbing prospect that one day the relationship between the Sahara and the Amazon could be reversed, though wind currents will probably make a different part of the world the beneficiary of Amazonian dust,” says Schellnhuber.

Human behaviour is also directly influencing the ancient relationship between the two regions. Four-wheel drive vehicles are churning up the Sahara Desert causing a surge in the amount of dust produced. This sounds like a good thing for the Amazon, and in the long run the extra dust may offset the impact of a greening of the desert.

“On the other hand, global dust is becoming a major problem in terms of climate change,” he says. “As with many regions of the world, we don’t know which areas will be ‘winners’ and which will be ‘losers’. My sense is that the Amazon will be a major loser”.

The relationship between the Amazon and Sahara illustrates the complexity and intertwined nature of the Earth System and draws attention to another affiliation between the two regions - both belong to a family of “hotspots” that act like massive regulators of Earth’s environment, says Professor Schellnhuber.

They are amongst a dozen such hotspots that scientists have located so far. According to Schellnhuber, these hotspots (also known amongst scientists as Earth’s “Achilles’ heels”), are critical regions of the Earth that, if stressed, could trigger large-scale rapid changes across the entire planet.

A good example is the North Atlantic Current, the ocean circulation pattern responsible for bringing warmer air to northern Europe. The collapse of this current could lead to a massive regional shift in climate. Other examples include the Asian monsoon system and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Professor Schellnhuber likens these spots to vital organs in the body. “The Earth is in many ways similar to a human body. All parts of the planet are interconnected and, just like the heart, lungs and brain etc, the “vital organs” of the Earth must be kept in good health,” he says.

However, not enough is known about these vital points to be able to predict when critical thresholds are reached. “We have so far completely underestimated the importance of these locations. What we do know is that going beyond critical thresholds in these regions is could have dramatic consequences for humans and other life forms”.

Professor Schellnhuber calls for a coordinated global effort to better understand and monitor the Earth’s “Achilles’ heels”. “Such an effort is every bit as important as NASA’s valuable asteroid spotting programme designed to protect the planet from collisions,” he says.

“If we can afford to gaze up at the sky looking for asteroids, we should be able to watch our own planet with as much care”.

Susannah Eliott | alfa
Further information:
http://www.igbp.kva.se

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Sediment from Himalayas may have made 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake more severe
26.05.2017 | Oregon State University

nachricht Devils Hole: Ancient Traces of Climate History
24.05.2017 | Universität Innsbruck

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>