Assessing the Impacts of the Recent Amazonian Drought

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE

Abstract

Over the last few months there has been extreme drought in Amazonia. This may be related to warming of the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, the same feature that helped generate unusually violent hurricanes and contributed to 2005 breaking the record as the most active year for Atlantic tropical cyclones since records began. The Amazon drought may have been a similarly unusual event. In western Amazonia particularly this may have been the most intense drought since weather records began in this region in the mid 20th-century. By October, river stage levels along the middle and lower reaches of the Amazon river had reached the lowest marks for 35 to 60 years, which indicates that most of the vast Amazon basin (about 5 million km2) has seen exceptionally dry conditions for many months. The drought led to a state of emergency in parts of Brazil, where boats could no longer be used to supply towns and villages with essential supplies. Reports from Amazonian towns such as Iquitos (Peru), Leticia (Colombia), and Manaus (Brazil) suggest that temperatures approached, and perhaps exceeded, their all-time temperature records. The drought appears to be ending now. This project will attempt to assess the impacts of this unusual event on the Amazon forest / which harbours more carbon and more species than any other ecosystem on earth. Water is essential for plant growth, so the growth rates of trees may have been severely reduced, and also the rates of tree death may have increased. Changes in rates of tree growth and death impact on the amount of carbon stored. However, at the moment, the severity of these effects is not known. However strong these effects may (or may not) have been, the drought does represent a scientific opportunity that must be seized, because it may provide a window into the future. Human-driven climate change is expected to increase temperatures substantially in this region (by 2 to 5 Celsius within the century), and probably to diminish rainfall. Studying the effects of this drought in detail on the structure of forest canopies, the structure of leaves and branches, and how different species and types of tree respond, can provide the information to make predictions of how Amazonian forests might look in future. This research team is in a unique position to study the effects of this drought. A network of long term monitoring plots has been established over the last five years, building on plots established as long ago as 1970. With our South American colleagues these plots are regularly monitored, and many were remeasured during the last 12 months. In a few, select sites, we have also been looking frequently (as often as every fortnight) at short-term ecological processes such as leaf litter-fall, and measuring the weather that the plots are experiencing. In the proposed research we set out a strategy for measuring the effect that this remarkable drought has had. Not only will we return as soon as possible to make the long-term measurements such as tree growth, death, in as many plots as possible, but we will also make the high-intensity, short-term measurements (such as litterfall) for an additional year following the drought so that we can understand in more detail how Amazon forests recover from the drought. Together with this intensive fieldwork and subsequent laboratory analyses we will also synthesize existing weather data from across the Amazon to understand the precise magnitude, intensity, and distribution of the drought, and also satellite-based measurements of forest canopy properties to understand how the extreme conditions have affected the larger region, and to put our localised fieldwork results in context of the whole region. The overall outcome of the project will be to discover just how serious this event has been for plants in the region, and therefore to allow us to make much better predictions of what might happen in the future.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Project finished 9 years ago and all information was provided before
Exploitation Route Project finished 9 years ago and all information was provided before
Sectors Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Project finished 9 years ago and all information was provided before
First Year Of Impact 2006
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description 2014 REF impact study tropical biomass increases and climate change mitigation
Geographic Reach South America 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Impact Research led by Phillips (including a major NERC-funded element) has enabled, for the first time, the use of on-the-ground observations to evaluate directly the role of tropical forests in the global carbon cycle and to assess their sensitivity to change. Findings from the research have had a significant impact on international debates on the future trajectory of climate change and appropriate policy responses, and are influencing national-scale efforts across the tropics to manage forests in the face of climate change and to reduce carbon emissions resulting from deforestation. The success of this initiative has been achieved through the extensive network of scientists involved in this global forest observatory: more than 250 scientists from over 50 institutions across more than 30 countries are now involved. The impact study was assessed as 'outstanding' in the 2014 REF The URL provided gives extensive details.
URL http://impact.ref.ac.uk/CaseStudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=6355
 
Title the RAINFOR Forest Plots Protocol 
Description Full protocol for establishing, measuring, inventorying, monitoring tropical forest plots 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Supported our global impact (ie our REF 2014 study) also submitted to ResearchFish viz http://impact.ref.ac.uk/CaseStudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=6355 The RAINFOR protocol led by Phillips has been widely adopted by other project, networks, and groups based in the UK and internationally, all with a focus on understanding long-term ecological change and carbon cycle/ bodiversity/ climate change synergies and impacts (eg AfriTRON, ForestPlots.net, T-FORCES, GEM, Forest Observation Sytem, Global Forest Survey) 
URL http://www.forestplots.net/en/resources
 
Title ForestPlots.net 
Description It is ALL FOUR of the options given above (for which I had to choose one) ForestPlots.net provides a unique place for everyone who wants to measure, monitor, and understand the world's forests, and especially the tropical forests. Currently Forest Plots.net tracks more than 1,500 forest plots in 35 countries, recording the work of more than 1,000 people. ForestPlots.net aims to promote science synergies across countries and continents, and enable partners to access, analyse and manage the information from their long-term plots. ForestPlots.net aims to help forest scientists and forest people worldwide, especially in tropical countries. ForestPlots.net includes a web application with a modular design. The front end was developed using Microsoft.net framework and it interacts with a Microsoft SQL server database. The underlying database is a relational database which utilizes more than 50 tables to store plot and individual tree information. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact ForestPlots.net has supported more than 100 research outputs and research products http://www.forestplots.net/en/products http://www.forestplots.net/en/resources ForestPlots.net provides multiple database and analytical tools used by forest researchers and practitioners, especially in the UK and South America. With Newton support (BC Institutional Links and NERC Newton Fund) during 2016, 2017, and 2018 we are extending its use to partners in Amazonas (Brazil), Mato Grosso (Brazil) and to partners in Indonesia. As of 2018, Google Analytics shows there has already been increased uptake in Brazil, where the proportion of active users of ForestPlots has more than doubled from 7 to 15% of all users, and where the number of active sessions analysing Amazon forest data is now ca. 100 per month. 
URL http://www.forestplots.net/
 
Title ForestPlots.net webtool and application 
Description see ForestPlots.net entry This is a Webtool/Application, as well as a sophisticated database. ForestPlots.net provides a unique place for everyone who wants to measure, monitor, and understand the world's forests, and especially the tropical forests. Currently Forest Plots.net tracks more than 1,000 forest plots in 31 countries, recording the work of 740 people. ForestPlots.net aims to promote science synergies across countries and continents, and enable partners to access, analyse and manage the information from their long-term plots. ForestPlots.net includes a web application with a modular design. The front end was developed using Microsoft.net framework and it interacts with a Microsoft SQL server database. The underlying database is a relational database which utilizes more than 50 tables to store plot and individual tree information. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact see ForestPlots.net entry. This is a Webtool/Application, as well as a sophisticated database. 
URL http://www.forestplots.net/en/about-forest-plots