Thursday, June 7, 2012

Amazon deforestation at record low, data shows

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK):  Deforestation of the Amazon has fallen to its lowest levels since records began, according to data recently released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.

The boost for the environment comes a week after president Dilma Rousseff was criticised for weakening the forest protection measures widely credited for the improvement, and two weeks before Brazil hosts the Rio+20 Earth summit.

Using satellite imagery, the institute said 6,418 sq km of Amazon forest was stripped in the 12 months before 31 July 2011 – the smallest area since annual measurements started in 1988. The data continues an encouraging trend. Since the peak deforestation year of 2004, the rates of clearance have fallen by almost 75%.

"This reduction is impressive; it is the result of changes in society, but it also stems from the political decision to inspect, as well as from punitive action by government agencies," Rousseff said.

She was speaking at a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the opening of two new nature reserves: the 34,000-hectare (83,980 acres) Bom Jesus Biological Reserve in Paran√°, and the 8,500-hectare (20,995 acres) Furna Feia National Park in Rio Grande do Norte....

From NASA: This image reveals how the forest and the atmosphere interact to create a uniform layer of “popcorn” clouds one afternoon. During the dry season, the rainforest gets more sunlight. The plants thrive, putting out extra leaves and increasing photosynthesis. The photosynthesising plants release water vapour into the atmosphere. Water vapour is more buoyant than dry air, so it rises and eventually condenses into clouds like the popcorn clouds shown in this image. These clouds are almost certainly a result of transpiration. The clouds are distributed evenly across the forest, but no clouds formed over the Amazon River and its floodplain, where there is no tall canopy of trees. When water vapour condenses, it releases heat into the atmosphere. The heat makes the air even more buoyant, and it rises. The higher it rises, the more the air expands and cools, which allows more water vapour to condense. Eventually, thunderstorms can form. The more concentrated clusters of clouds in the image are likely thunderstorms.

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