Though the climate change debate remains contentious (in the USA, at least), there is at least one aspect of global warming that cannot be denied. Current conditions in the Brazilian rainforest are very similar to early predictions of a major drought in the Amazon, should atmospheric CO2 levels be allowed to rise.
These effects have been exacerbated by human encroachment, particularly cattle ranching, logging, hydroelectric projects, and more recently biofuel farms. And, assuming the climate change data is sound, continued drought could turn the Amazon jungle into a carbon source rather than sink, a potentially devastating feedback loop.
Though the Brazilian government remains committed to mitigating the effects of climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels, stopping the process altogether seems a less realistic goal with each passing year. Enter ADAPTA (Adaptations Study Center for the Aquatic Biota of the Amazon), a new government program that actually tests the effects of global warming on key Amazon species.
While climate change models can predict the big picture, there’s no way to know how each animal population will react to sustained hotter, dryer conditions. ADAPTA is a network of 21 Brazilian laboratories “that will house hundreds of species of plants, mammals, fish, and insects from the Amazon in climate-controlled rooms that represent Earth 25, 50, and 100 years from now. The project will, essentially, put these species through a real-life climate simulator” (Schwartz, 2011).
Enclosed tanks, rooms, and labs will be closed off, populated with the Amazon’s most precious residents, and then manipulated so that the temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels resemble those of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) simulations. Access to vegetation and drinking water may also be controlled.
The hope is that researchers will know which species will thrive in a warmer world, which will muddle through with some help, and which are probably doomed to extinction no matter what humans do. If economics is the dismal science, climate change studies must be akin to clinical depression.
Regardless, the Brazilian government has been taking all sorts of creative, pro-active measures to protect the Amazon. ADAPTA, part of the National Institute of Amazonian Research is just one of them. With proper management, the mighty rainforests cloaking the world’s mightiest river could remain healthy for decades, no matter what the future might bring.