2 Nov

Map of the Week: Drought Conditions in the Amazon Rainforest

By Thomas Jang

Storing 150 to 200 million tons of carbon, the Amazon Rainforest is one of the world’s important ecosystems. Nestled in the interior of South America, it expands across nine countries and covers 40% of the continent. Most of the rainforest is occupied by Brazil, followed by Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. As the rainforest stabilizes the local and global climates and is home to one in 10 species, its survival is essential to our own survival. Unfortunately this year, it has received low levels of rainfall and imposed a serious threat to the animal and human communities that depend on it. 

Captured by the Copernicus-EU satellite, aerial imagery illustrates parts of the Amazon River itself have dried up. In Iranduba, a municipality in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, the drought has exposed portions of the riverbed and obstructed travel for humans and marine individuals—notably, pink dolphins and gray dolphins known locally as tuxucis. An agency linked with Brazil’s Ministry of Science and Technology, the Center for Monitoring Natural Disasters and Alerts warns the drought is likely to last until January 2024. The Pachamama Alliance leads the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, working with Indigenous people in the region to help govern and protect their lands from resource extraction. As a result, deforestation has curtailed human rights of Indigenous people. 

This year has also experienced an El Nino, which scientists point to as one of the factors of this disaster. The other factor has been deforestation that has caused soil erosion and desertification. Deforestation has been mainly caused by cattle ranching and soy-bean farming that significantly use slash-and-burn practices that have reduced moisture. Cutting down the trees has disrupted the cycle of moisture, which is supplied by water vapor produced by native vegetation. A study by Nature Climate Change has argued that parts of the rainforest are only decades away from becoming savannahs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) brings more awareness to the situation, stating that the Rio Negro, the Amazon River’s main tributary, is at its lowest levels since records began in the 1900’s.