June 27, 2000 A new field research facility in the Amazon rainforest sponsored by NASA and the Brazilian government will be completed this month as part of an experiment to study the region's impact on global change and develop information for sustainable resource management solutions. Extensive ecological field studies get underway this summer during the region's dry season.
First-of-a-kind experiments on the impact of logging on tropical ecosystems will be among the studies conducted at the facility near the Amazon River city of Santarém in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Over 150 scientists and students from Brazil, the United States, Europe, and several South American countries are involved in research at the facility.
The studies are part of the Brazilian-led "Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia" (LBA), a multi-year project that integrates meteorological, hydrological, ecological and land use research across the Amazon.
"LBA seeks to understand the function of the vast Amazon region within the Earth system," says Michael Keller of the U. S. Forest Service's International Institute of Tropical Forestry. "From an ecological point of view, we want to get a detailed picture of both the natural cycles of change and the changes brought on by land use decisions." Keller is project scientist for the LBA ecological projects.
In addition to the more than 30 ecological projects being funded by NASA, LBA includes extensive research on the meteorology and hydrology of the region. NASA's LBA research began in 1998.
Using data from field work and observations from space by Landsat 7, Terra, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), LBA scientists will produce an integrated analysis of the complex biological, chemical, and atmospheric processes that drive this massive ecosystem at scales ranging from one-meter plots to the entire Amazon region. This analysis will be used to study potential future scenarios for the Amazon.
Santarém will be the main LBA ecological field site for NASA-sponsored investigations, joining a network of nine other sites in different parts of the Brazilian Amazon. New laboratories in Santarém and three field stations south of the city make up the research facility, which is sponsored by NASA and the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources.
The main field station is in an area of primary, or undisturbed, forest in the Tapajós National Forest where measurements of vegetation and the flow of atmospheric carbon and water will be made on the ground and from a 150-foot (45-meter) walk-up tower into the forest canopy and a 210-foot (65-meter) instrumented tower that reaches above the canopy.
Another field station in the national forest with similar instruments will monitor the forest in its undisturbed state and after it is logged next year so scientists can study how the forest recovers. A third site outside the forest will monitor carbon and water exchanges in a pasture. With data from all these sites, scientists will make the first three-way comparison of carbon, trace gases, water, and energy exchanges from pristine tropical forests, logged forests, and pasture land, says Keller.
Tower and ground-based measurements will capture the entire cycle of water, nutrients, and carbon moving in and out of the ecosystem. This data will help scientists understand why the vast Amazon region appears to fluctuate between being a net source of carbon to the atmosphere and a net sink for atmospheric carbon.
On June 20, Darrell A. Jenks, science counselor for the U. S. Embassy in Brazil, toured the forest field stations and participated in a roundtable discussion with LBA scientists at the facility's base camp. "This base camp includes temporary living quarters for up to 40 people and is expected to be completely occupied in July," says Donald Deering of Goddard Space Flight Center, project manager for NASA's ecological research in LBA and a participant in the roundtable discussion.
In addition to research in the biological and physical sciences, LBA sponsors social science research into the reasons for and effects of human land-use decisions in the region. Ongoing surveys of land owners and land managers are being conducted to investigate how individual decision-makers are affecting the forest and, in turn, how their decisions are influenced by natural changes in the forest brought on by such phenomena as El Ninõ.
Other NASA-sponsored LBA research projects include:
* a controlled experiment that will exclude rainfall from a section of forest to study how drought stress makes a forest more flammable, creation of the first high-resolution map of the extent of flooding across the entire Amazon basin from space-based radar data, tests of the ability of NASA's new Terra spacecraft to detect and measure rates of land-cover change, analysis of the long-term impact of smoke from biomass burning on the vegetation and atmosphere of the Amazon basin, and investigation into how logging makes forests vulnerable to the spread of fire.
* LBA is organized by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research with participation by programs from many other nations and NASA's Land Cover and Land Use Change, Hydrology, and Terrestrial Ecology programs and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission.
* NASA is working collaboratively on LBA projects with the Brazilian Institute for Space Research, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources, the Brazilian Enterprise for Research in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, the Brazilian Institute for Amazonian Research, and many Brazilian universities. Initial results from LBA research will be presented June 26-30 at the first LBA scientific conference in Belém, Brazil.
* More information on the LBA project can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www3.cptec.inpe.br/lba/index.html. Color images of the field station research tower and a Landsat 7 view of the region, showing areas of deforestation, are available at ftp://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsmedia/amazon/.
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The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center--EOS Project Science Office.
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