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article imageAbsence of 'Flying Rivers' causing severe drought in Brazil

By Karen Graham     Sep 16, 2014 in Environment
The extreme drought now affecting Sao Paulo, Brazil is thought to be because of the absence of South America's "flying Rivers." No, they are not a mythical entity, but the name given the clouds of water vapor that bring rains to Southeastern Brazil.
The "Rios Voadores," or flying rivers was so named by a meteorologist, Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the early 2000's. He used the name Rios Voadores to describe the streams of air, loaded with water vapor and usually accompanied by clouds, that are propelled by the prevailing easterly winds to the south.
These streams of water vapor are normally carried by the winds from the Amazon rainforest, moving across the lands on the Eastern slopes of the Andes Mountain range and on down into southern Brazil. These flying rivers of water vapor normally bring yearly rains to Central and Southeastern Brazil, an area considered the agricultural heartland of the nation.
The water pump has gone dry this year
Describing the Amazon rainforest as a "giant water pump," many Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain this year has dried up rivers and reservoirs, not as a quirk of nature, but because of changes to the Amazon rainforest brought on by increased deforestation and climate change. The "giant water pump" is merely dripping now, where in the past, billions of liters of water vapor were released into the atmosphere.
Satellite images from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) show the clear absence of rain in January and February this year, as the "flying rivers" failed to show up, unlike the previous five years. But an added factor in the "empty water pump" scenario is the massive amount of deforestation going on in Brazil.
It is heartrending to read the figures compiled by DETER, a real time deforestation detection system based on high frequency satellite images used by the INPE. The images show very clearly, that after falling for a period of two years, deforestation rose again by more than 10 percent between August 2013 and July 2014.
Deter deforestation alert for Aug. 2009 through July 2014
Deter deforestation alert for Aug. 2009 through July 2014
DETER
Deforestation in Brazil has reached horrendous proportions. An area larger in size than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined, or 22 percent, of the Amazon rainforest is gone. In the Cerrado in central Brazil, 47 percent has been lost. Worse still are the forests that used to cover the entire Atlantic Coast of Brazil. Only a small portion of that forest, about 0.5 percent remains.
The lower half of Brazil is dependent on water
Brazil receives more rainfall than any other country on earth. The closest country to Brazil in rainfall quantities is the Russian Federation, and it receives less than half what Brazil gets annually. Not only is Southeastern Brazil dependent on water for agriculture, but for industry also. Up until recently, 90 percent of the country's energy requirements relied on hydro-power.
Today, the worst drought in the history of Sao Paulo has dried up reservoirs and rivers, resulting in water rationing in 19 cities, affecting hydroelectric power generation and led to outright squabbling between states vying for their share of the dwindling supplies of water. "It has been a terrible year. The last rainy season was drier than the dry season," Mauro Arce, São Paulo's water resources secretary, told the Guardian. "This is a crisis and we are responding with technical measures and the support of consumers."
So does this mean the "water pump" is gone for good, or is this really a quirk of nature? By relying on fossil fuels to get them through this drought and still produce electricity, the country is raising its greenhouse gas emissions. And until governmental control is enforced on those using slash and burn techniques to illegally clear the Amazon's forests, there may be more droughts in Brazil's future.
More about Amazon rainforest, Drought, flying clouds project, water vapor, Brazil
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