Climate change and Tipping Points in the Amazon

Most of the talks from a recent conference on Climate change and the fate of the Amazon at University of Oxford are available online as slides and podcasts. Some of the interesting points from the conference:

  • Intact forests may be more resistant to drought than climate-vegetation models usually assume (deep roots, large soil water reserves, hydraulic uplift)
  • The interaction of drought with forest fragmentation and fire ignition points can trigger tipping to savanna forest with less biodiversity and biomass.
  • Global demand for soybeans and biofuels could drive substantial land clearing.
  • Substantial opportuntities for land use change feedbacks exist in Amazonia. Climatic drying could allow the expansion of soy and sugarcane cultivation, which would feedback to stimulate further drying.
  • There is a need increase the resilience of the Amazon, because models estimate a non-trival chance of severe drought and forest dieback over the 21st century. Resilience can be enhanced by enhancing the recycling of water vapour that maintains mesic forests in the amazon.

David Oswald works on Amazonia forest resilience in my lab. He attended the conference and has these recommendations on the talks:

Carlos Nobre – Dr. Nobre is very well-known internationally and especially in Brazil. He is a climate scientist by training but is involved in the leadership of scientific research projects such as IGBP, CPTEC, and the LBA project. He alludes to the importance of Ecological Resilience and Stability in his talk, but more detail and a conceptual framework is required – (that is what I am working on).

Peter Cox – Dr. Cox is a well-known global climate modeller and first published a paper in 2000 about the “Dieback” of the Amazon. This was very controversial when it came out and inspired many people to look at this problem from different perspectives and also using different global climate models. The follow up work to the 2000 paper has similar results and unfortunately, one of the outcomes of the conference was that there is general concensus that increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the corresponding climate change could have very serious effects on the Amazon. Again, these research projects at this scale have a high degree of uncertainty, but the people presenting, who are all experts, came to similar conclusions. Check it out for yourself.

Chris Huntingford – Dr. Huntingford’s presentation was a follow up to Cox’s work, basically testing the hyothesis and strength of results.

Luiz Aragao – Dr. Aragao and his collaborators did some interesting work with remote sensing, similar to the type of approach I am taking. Very solid work.

Michael Keller – Dr. Keller is with the US Forest Service and has been involved with the LBA project in a leadership position since the early 90’s. He has a broad historical as well as sound scientific perspective on things.

Dan Neptad – Dr. Nepstad is extremely well known in Amazonian research and is at the Woods Hole Research center. He has done some very interesting work with water availability and ecosystem health in the Amazon and has designed some very cool experiments. Increasingly, his work is focused on the interaction between science and development policy in this region. His presentation speaks to that. He is a progressive thinker, and also very active on the ground in the Amazon.

Juan Carlos Riveros – Dr. Riveros gave a very interesting talk on conservation strategies in the Amazon. I was blown away by the extent of the research they have done and continue to do with respect to conservation strategies. They have done some very interesting spatial analytical work. Good for a geography-oriented person.

Diogenes Alves – Dr. Alves is an interesting person. By training, he is a computational mathematician. He has been involved extensively with the design and planning of the LBA project. His presentation outlined the epistemological framework they used and also some of the challenges they initally faced with the structuring of an international scientific research project that clearly was embedded in a complex social and economic situation. He alluded to Systems Theory in his talk, and that really appealed to me, so I am including this one for those that are interested in the links between Social Science and Natural Science and the practical realities one faces when doing this type of research.

Kevin Conrad – Mr. Conrad is with a group called the Rainforest Coalition. He presented a strategy for rainforest conservation based on using the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol as a means of attaching economic value on the carbon market to rainforests that are preserved and not degraded. I did not understand in depth this strategy, but it seems that there are positive merits to this approach. I personally, am not 100% sold on exclusively using market solutions but I think that they do play an important role. For more detail you can check out his presentation and come to your own conclusions.

Dr. Yadvinder Malhi’s provides a summary of the conference. He draws out the key points and overall conclusions.

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