Archive for the ‘Deforestation’ Category

How the Atlantic Forest in Brazil Slipped Away From Us

Photo by kyle hargus. Some rights reserved.

Two weeks ago to this very day I arrived in Foz do Iguaçu, a small city in the Paraná state of southern Brazil. The purpose of my trip? To visit the nearby Iguazu Falls, a jaw-dropping natural wonder on the Western side of the Atlantic Forest, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The falls divide the Iguazu River (which flows from further north in the Atlantic Forest) into its upper and lower counterparts, by way of a breathtaking chasm of waterfalls (272 separate waterfalls in total) that stretch out across 2.5 miles of sparkling emerald jungle. I’ve been telling people I’ve spoken to since getting back to the states that it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s no exaggeration. Here’s another photo from my trip for emphasis:

Photo by kyle hargus. Some rights reserved.

As I witnessed them, the falls were extremely well preserved, thanks to the conservation work of the Brazilian and Argentinean governments. Both sides of the falls have been turned into national parks by their respective governments, and while they both fall victim to some of the trappings of tourist culture, their obstruction of the falls themselves is minimal, and their efforts to reduce waste and ecological footprint in these parks is admirable. However, the falls themselves have only been so fortunate as to be so well preserved because there is an obvious financial motivation to keep them pristine – the surrounding rivers and forest patches of the Atlantic Forest region have not historically been so lucky. Tropical deforestation and fragmentation in this region has destroyed a huge amount of rainforest. While the Atlantic Forest once covered over half a million square miles of Brazil’s eastern coast, almost 90% of it has been destroyed irreparably by agricultural growth and construction of roads and cities. What’s left is a sad, scattered patchwork of forest fractions, little isolated pockets of forest that house near-extinct species (such as tapirs, giant anteaters, jaguars, and white-lipped peccaries) and require protective care now more than ever.
A new study released this week by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal documents this natural catastrophe and projects models (species-area relationship models) that shows a grim future of the biodiversity of this region based on the limitations of these forest patch regions, showing that only 22 percent of the animals that originally inhabited the Atlantic Forest are still present in the patches that are left.
There have been conservation efforts underway in the Atlantic Forest region in the recent past, but researchers are unsure how much of the damage can actually be undone. In 2009, Argentina and Paraguay made a pledge at the XIIIth World Forestry Congress to work towards a zero net sum of deforestation and to put measures into effect to enforce commitments made to protect the region, which having seen bits of it myself, certainly seems more than worth protecting.

Research Team Maps Biomass in Tropical Forests

Photo by UWEC. Some rights reserved.

Ever find yourself daydreaming about the distribution of carbon in our planet’s tropical forests? Researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center, led by Alessandro Baccini, collected data on the structural particulars of tropical forests using LIDAR (light detection and radar) technology over the course of two years. The result is a satisfyingly detailed, interactive map of the band of earth found between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, that uses a color scale to represent a given area’s above-ground biomass, the density and complexity of the entire vertical range of these tropical forests. This data in turn indicates where in these regions carbon is best stored, and in what quantities. Their map is the most precise report developed of its kind, beating out a similar map created last year by NASA.

Aside from being a fun thing to peruse and guess at, the biomass map has a very good shot at influencing international policy regarding the preservation and cultivation of these forests and the carbon that they contain. The New York Times highlights the implications this new data has for the United Nations’ REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degredation in Developing Countries) program, in that it would allow us to hone in on the areas of forest that most require our attention (or inattention, as the case may be). The Indonesian government has already expressed interest in using the maps to better protect their forests from the negative effects of the palm oil industry, for example.

And while we’re on the subject of tropical forests, a quick aside that might be worth perusing on your lunch break: Google Street View has now officially conquered the Amazon!

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