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Chapter 11-Brazil 2 - The Amazon, Deforestation, & Climate

By Neil

rain 32 °C
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I reckon that, if you want to get a real perspective on a country or continent, then it is best to travel by land. This is absolutely true when considering the mighty Amazon and the Amazon basin.

The statistics beggar belief.

It is 80% of the size of Australia – 6 million square km’s

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The size of the Amazon basin compared with the size of the USA.

Of which only 60% is in Brazil.

The rainfall is about 2,700 mm per year (Melbourne is 670 mm/ year, London is 590 mm/ year)

It’s incredibly flat. The Amazon only rises 80 metres from the coast at Belem to Tabatinga, 2,500 km’s to the west.

The width of the river is between 200 and 300 km’s at the mouth of the river, 2 km’s at Manaus, and about 1 km at Tabatinga.

It contains 20 % of the worlds fresh water.

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Because Nik and I wanted to catch the launch of the Sentinel 2B satellite from French Guiana, we had to fly from Cayenne in French Guiana to Manaus, 1,500 km’s west of Belem in Brazil.

Manaus is known as the gateway to the Amazon. It is also where the Rio Amazonia (River Amazon, 22 degrees C, a speed of 5 km/h, and a pH of 7.1), meets up with Rio Negro (Black River, 28 degrees C, speed of 2 km/h, and pH of 4.4). Here there is one of the worlds greatest visual phenomena; the Amazon is brown and the Black River is, funnily enough, black. Due to the difference in temperature, speed, and pH, the rivers take several km’s to mix, causing this:

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Joining of the Rio Amazonia and the Rio Negro at Manaus, Brazil

When we were first researching the Amazon, we were expecting Manaus to be a small town, but actually its population is 1.7 million; the size of Perth, Australia. In the late 1800’s Manaus was a very wealthy town due to rubber and a massive opera house was built where world famous artists like Enrico Caruso, Jose Carreras, and Sarah Bernhardt have came to perform.

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Inside and outside of the Manaus Opera House in Brazil.

We had arranged to spend 3 days at the Amazon Turtle Lodge. This involved getting down the Amazon,

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Fish market at Manaus port, Brazil

Getting on a boat across the Amazon,

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Leaving Manaus port

Getting a people carrier taxi (an old VW Combi) to another river, via a look at the giant lily pads,

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Giant Lily pads on the way to the Amazon Jungle stay

Then onto another boat taking us up a tributary to the Amazon Turtle Lodge.

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Boat up the resort to the jungle resort.

The most striking things about the trip to the Lodge were firstly, just the enormous quantity of water. The river at Manaus is 2 km wide. The high water mark on the trees was 5 metres above the water level when we were on the river. Most transport is via boat. If there are roads, and they are to be all-season, they’ve got to be very high. Our last boat into the Lodge was a one hour trip. In the dry season, it’s half an hour because you can drive closer to the Lodge. The wet season last from January to June and the Dry Season is July to December. Hence the river was rising during our stay.

The Lodge consisted of numerous cabins spread out from the access to the river and a great restaurant bar.

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The first day consisted of getting to the Lodge and then a boat trip out to see the wildlife.

A couple of Caipirinhas and beers in the evening followed by a morning walk through the very hot, very mosquito infested rainforest. We went a bit native….

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Moses, our jungle guide, weaving.

It was 18 months ago following a trip to Bhutan that I was hospitalised for a week with a, to this day, unidentified tropical infection. During the hospitalisation, I was tested for just about everything and it was found that at some point in the past (Cameroon ?), I’d caught malaria and dengue fever. The malaria is not that much of an issue; I’m taking malaria pills and if it flares up, I get to hospital and it’s all ok. Dengue, however, is a bit trickier. There are 5 strains, of which I’ve caught one. If I catch the same strain again, it’s not such a big deal, but if I catch a different strain, it can lead to “Dengue Haemorrhagic fever” which is bad. Definitely hospital bad. Possibly intensive care bad. So the tropical diseases doctor at Medical One in Melbourne’s advice was firstly, don’t get bitten. So lots of mosquito repellent and cover up. The next thing is know the symptoms of Dengue, and if I get them, don’t muck about. Get to a hospital.

So, whilst we enjoyed the Jungle Walk, the concept of a night time walk or, as some people were doing, a 3 day, or even an 8 day walk in the jungle ? Yeah, No.

Also there is how Nikki feels about “butterflies”. The 8 legged variety. Sometimes called spiders. Nikki really doesn’t like them at all. She was living in an apartment once and there was a spider in the kitchen. Nikki closed the door to the kitchen, taped it closed, and ate take out for 3 days until a friend came over.

Suffice to say that, whilst I told Nikki that there were no “butterflies” in the Amazon, that might have been a bit of a fib. Whilst on the jungle walk, the guide, Moses, asked Nikki to go 10 feet away and showed me a 6 inch hole in the ground and poked a stick into it to get the spider, that I reckon was 7 inches across and very hairy, and Moses said was very poisonous. (By the way Nikki reads these blogs before they are posted and all of this paragraph was blacked out when Nikki read it….. )

In the afternoon, we went piranha fishing. Well, Moses and I did. Nikki, being a vegetarian, didn’t want to hurt defenceless animals. It absolutely threw the rain down.

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Piranha teth.

On the way back to Manaus, Moses was incredibly sharp eyed and spotted a Sloth !

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It’s a sloth in the wild !

We were back in Manaus overnight before jumping on the express boat for a short 1,100 km, 36 hour express boat ride up the Amazon to Tabatinga on the Tri-State border; Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.

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Map showing our little boat trip from Manuas (a) to Leticia (b). 1,100 km’s. 36 hours.

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Amazonian sunset. Yes, that’s a river, not a lake.

Our Brazilian odyssey drew to a close. Brazil is amazing. An incredible country. Great people. Beautiful. Awesome nature !

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Deforestation of the Amazon.

As I wrote earlier, the Amazon is huge. Imagine Australia not as a land of many deserts but as a land where 80% of the country was covered by thick forest. Travelling 1,100 km’s up the Amazon, it all looked green. There were trees. But we’ve heard a lot about deforestation of the Amazon and how it’s really bad. So I thought “Is it bad ? How Bad ? What does it mean for the climate?”.

When we look at the deforestation of the Amazon, this is what it looks like:

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It doesn’t look that bad. Until you look at the rate of deforestation. If 1970 is taken as a baseline then Brazil has lost 19% of it’s forest in 45 years. However 10% of that loss has been in the 25 years since 1991.

Why?

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Cows!

Why did it increase significantly in the 1970’s ? The Trans Amazon Highway.

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It opened up high swathes of the Amazon to development. Fortunately, it is yet to be finished.

What does this mean in terms of climate? Exactly what you’d expect:
- The Amazon acts as a massive moderator of heat. When the forest isn’t there (or is replaced with pasture), the daytime heat increases and the night time temperatures decrease.
- The Evapotranspiration, or recycling of the rainfall in the Amazon decreases resulting in massive decrease rainfall, runoff and health of the local climate (eg the massive drought in the Sao Paulo area in 2013, 2014, and 2015).
- The Amazon absorbs billions of tonnes of Carbon each year. If the forest is destroyed, not only is this not absorbed, but the carbon held in the vegetation is lost. And because most of the land is used for cattle, and cattle produce a lot of methane that is 21 times worse for the environment than CO2, you can see this is an incredibly serious problem.

Just thought you’d like to know…..

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However, now on to Columbia !

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Posted by capetocape2017 17:45 Archived in Brazil Tagged the change amazon climate deforestation

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Comments

Loving these entries. Your writing style strikes a pleasurable balance between Paul Theroux and Monty Python. Loved the 'butterflies'. Guaranteed Victor would be in 'butterfly' heaven there.

by Geoff Silagy

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