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by Mick the Ram
It has been confirmed that the vital Amazon rainforest experienced its worst drought on record in 2023. Wildfires have cut through large areas, much of the diverse wildlife has perished as their habitat disappeared and many villages and communities who rely on the rainforest’s waterways, have became unreachable.
Last year the water in the North Atlantic was abnormally warm, with a lot of dry air enveloping much of the Amazon, not helped by the El Niño weather pattern.
The rainy season in the Amazon should have started last October, but it was still dry and hot right up until the end of November.
Scientists are now speaking in terms of the world’s biggest forest rapidly approaching a point of no return, and eventually breaking apart and turning into a savannah.
Hundreds of thousands reliant on rivers
In normal years the rainy months leave the river several metres deep, as it flows below the stilted wooded houses, bringing water not only for drinking, but also cooking, washing and everyday living too. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of people rely on the Amazon rivers and streams for food, transportation and income.
Then when summer comes along and the river turns more into stream, it still usually has sufficient supply to meet everyone’s needs.
Last year however, the severe drought left many areas of the Canaticu River at Curralinho reduced to a dark brown trickle, and more or less dried up. One tributary, the Rio Negro, plunged to levels not seen in 121 years.
Recycled many times over
The vast rainforest creates a weather system all of its own, in a recycling event that sees water evaporate from the trees to form rain clouds, and repeat the process five or six times over. This has the effect of keeping the forest cool and hydrated, and life sustainable.
It stands to reason therefore that if large swathes of it die away, then that mechanism will eventually be broken and once that happens, there is every likelihood that there will be no going back.
Worse than eight years ago
Warnings have been there during past dry seasons and worryingly the drought of 2015 which killed 2.5bn trees and plants in just one small part of the forest, was less severe than this latest dry spell, it has been stated.
Corpses of fish have been discovered floating on the water that remains, victims of abnormal temperatures and these are polluting the water as they decompose.
Devastating effect on dolphins
In two lakes in the region, hundreds of dolphins have also been found dead. Dr Miriam Marmontel, from the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development said: “It was just devastating, we were dealing with live animals, beautiful specimens and then five days later, we had 70 carcasses.”
Over the course of just several weeks, 276 of the treasured marine creatures died and Dr Marmontel puts their loss of life down to the heating of the water, with it reaching 40.9C in places, which is far too high for an animal that is immersed in that water constantly.
Specialist makes worrying observation
In her 30 years living in the Amazon, Dr Marmontel says she never imagined she would see it so dry and made a frightening observation.
“We always say these animals are sentinels because they feel first what’s going to come to us. It’s happening to them and it’s going to happen to us.”
Even some sharp bursts of rainfall in late December and early January have failed to lift spirits, as even if a prolonged spell of wet weather were to come now, the harvest has been missed.