Understanding how the Amazon River varies in time, what causes those variations, and how sensitive it will be to ongoing, and accelerating, deforestation is a focus of study for scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center. Population and development pressures in the last several decades have led to significant areas of deforestation in the Amazon, most in the eastern and southern portion of the basin. By using a combination of numerical models and data from several disciplines to assess the possible impacts of future human-induced land cover and land use change, researchers are investigating the causes of changes to stream hydrology and biogeochemistry.
The Amazon, one of the most important watersheds on the planet and the largest river in the world, includes a massive network of rivers, floodplains, streams and wetlands, all playing an important role in modulating the Earths hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles. With nearly 20 percent of the Earths freshwater discharge, the Amazon carries more water than the nine other largest rivers of the world combined. The first phase of the study, led by Marcos Costa at the University of Viçosa in Minas Gerais, Brazil and completed in 2002, put together an enormous collection of data describing the physical characteristics of the Amazon River Basin. The data included the first detailed representation of the stream network throughout the 6 and 1/2 million km2 basin, and by itself, took 5 people over nine months to create. Researchers all over the globe are now using this data.
The second phase, led by Michael Coe, an associate scientist with The Woods Hole Research Center, was to build the first comprehensive computer model of the Amazon River and floodplain. This model, built over the course of several years and just recently completed, simulates the inter-connected river and floodplain system for the entire 6.5 million km2 basin. According to Coe, "The problem has always been that there simply arent enough observations over a long enough time period for us to understand the River system. So this model, by letting us simulate the entire river through time, has helped us learn much about how the river flow and flooded area react to year-to-year variations in climate."
Elizabeth Braun | EurekAlert!
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