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Trees Before Rain

Trees Before Rain

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, June 30, 2019/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, photography, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change

                     Moisture Released byTrees in Amazon Rainforest (credit: IntoBiology-UK)

Trees are essential in the water cycle (hydrologic cycle). Forest watersheds capture rain and release the water for myriad uses, they maintain soils on slopes preventing floods, and holding snowpack for gradual release during the spring. The role of trees in this natural cycle is particularly important in the tropics, ie. rainforests. Transpiration is the biological process where trees and other plants releases moisture into the atmosphere. In the Amazon, it contributes much of the water that falls on the rainforest. However, an important ecological question remained: which came first, the rain or the rainforest?

Turns out, the trees themselves create their tropical ecosystem being both the generator and recycler of the system's water. Legal and illegal deforestation is now creating droughts in cleared rainforest regions once covered in trees. The present consequences are negative and the future ones will be far reaching. Rates and extent of deforestation has been tracked by environmental monitoring satellites including NASA's Terra project. Comparison of changes over twelve years show: 

             Amazon Deforestation, Rondonia State 2000-2012 (credit: NASA MODIS imager Terra project)

Research at UCLA, JPL, and elsewhere and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) show:

"that trees essentially make their own rainy season, at least in the southern portion of the Amazon. Analyzed water vapor data shows that by the end of the dry season, the clouds that build over the region are formed from water rising from the forest itself. This moisture from the trees primes a natural atmospheric pump, creating enough instability and providing enough water to develop the persistent rain patterns of the region.

A brief animation illustrates the ecological, water cycle process and how it contributed to rainforest expansion:

Deforestation occurs in the Amazon, southeast Asia, to the Congo, Southeast Asia. It is being driven by population growth, demand for export commodities, and official corruption. The biological losses are incalculable.



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