October 28, 2010

Meteorologists are split on the cause of the Amazonia drought, writes Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro.

ONE of the most important tributaries of the Amazon River has fallen to its lowest level in more than a century, following a fierce drought that has isolated tens of thousands of rainforest inhabitants and raised concerns about the impact of climate change on the region.

The drought affecting the north and west Amazonia has been described as one of the worst in the past 40 years, with the Negro River, which flows into the Amazon River, reportedly hitting its lowest level since records began in 1902. In just 24 hours the level of the Negro near Manaus, the capital of Brazilian state Amazonas, dropped 6 centimetres to 13.63 metres, a historic low.

The Solimoes and Amazon rivers have also seen their levels plunge stranding village dwellers who rely on the waterways for transport and food, and marooning wooden boats.
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Local authorities say nearly half Amazonas’ 62 municipalities declared states of emergency, during the last major drought in the region in 2005. That year thousands of families were forced to abandon their homes and schools closed for lack of students. Authorities say around 62,000 families have been affected by this year’s receding rivers, and the federal government has announced $US13.5 million ($A13.8 million) in aid for the region.

The problem has been particularly intense up river from Manaus towards the border with Peru and Colombia. But the area around the city has also been badly hit.

In Iranduba, 24 kilometres from Manaus, plans have been flagged to hack a small road through the rainforest in order to reconnect their community with the outside world.

“In my whole life I have never seen a drought like this one,” 50-year-old river-dweller Manoel Alves Pereira told the local A Critica newspaper.

Meteorologists and activists are divided on the drought’s causes — some blame Atlantic Ocean hurricanes which may have sapped humidity from the Amazon, while others say forest fires have stifled rainfall or that early effects of global warming may already be reshaping the region’s climate patterns.

Greenpeace activist Rafael Cruz, who has been monitoring the drought, said the rise and fall of the Amazon’s rivers was normal but that extreme droughts and flooding had become worryingly frequent.

Full story, HERE
The Age, via phill Parsons