Enéas Salati in 2011
"Salati's research in the 1980s showed that more than half of the Amazon's rainfall emanates from trees, with the rest coming from vapor from surface water bodies. ... The Brazilian rain forest's moisture is important for sustaining South American rainfall, especially the winter monsoons."
I've mentioned Antonio Nobre in connection with the "Flying Rivers" phenomenon but it was Brazil's Professor Enéas Salati "who first presented a theory on the correlation between evapotranspiration from the rainforest in the Amazon basin and rainfall in the southern half of the country," according to the website for the Rios Voadores (Flying Rivers) Project.
As to when he presented the theory, sometime in the 1970s, according to the site.
His doctorate was awarded in 1958 -- ironically, not for a water science but in agricultural engineering; the double irony is that was from a college at the University of São Paulo -- São Paulo now Brazil's largest city, a global megacity, and ground zero for a devastating drought in the southeastern part of the country.
By gum the Manmade Greenhouse Gases End Times crowd is going to cling to their theories to the bitter end, so it takes a few grains of salt to get through the opening paragraphs in this 2009 National Geographic report but it's worth the effort for background:
December 18, 2009
The Amazon's "flying rivers"— humid air currents that deliver water to the vast rain forest— may be ebbing, which could have dire consequences for the region's ability to help curb global warming, an expert said this week at the Copenhagen climate conference.
Rising temperatures in the Amazon region, in large part due to climate change, are creating more arid savannas, which disrupt the water cycle vital to Brazil's farming and energy industries.
Deforestation also plays a role. As more ofBrazil's rain forests fall to logging and agriculture, there are fewer trees to release the water vapor that creates these flying rivers.
Until recently, Amazon forest loss has been primarily linked to the trees' role in trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which are a root cause of global warming.
"Most people look at the Amazon as the lungs of the world, or as a solution to capture CO2," said Gérard Moss, an engineer and founder of the Flying Rivers Project, an ongoing effort to document the humid air currents and their effects.
"But I'd like people to realize that the Amazon Basin is a huge water pump—rain is [our] most valuable asset," he said by phone Wednesday in Copenhagen, where he gave a press briefing on the project earlier this week.
Flying rivers may transport as much water as the Amazon River itself, he added. "This huge rain machine needs to be preserved."
The Amazon region is awash with fresh water: 3,700 cubic miles (15,400 cubic kilometers) falls from the sky each year, the highest rate of rainfall in the world. The runner-up is Russia, with a yearly rate of 1,900 cubic miles (7,800 cubic kilometers).
Flying Rivers Project scientists—led by agronomist and Amazon-rainfall expert Enéas Salati—have determined that a single large tree in the center of the Amazon forest can give off up to 317 quarts (300 liters) of water in a day. (See rain forest pictures.)
In a process called evapotranspiration, trees draw water from their roots and then "transpire" some of that water back into the air.
Since 2003, Moss has flown through Brazil's airborne rivers in a single-engine plane to collect water vapor samples. The vapor's chemical "footprints" are then analyzed at the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA) in Piracicaba, in the state of Sao Paulo.
The project's goal has been to figure out where the water comes from and then map how wind currents carry water across the vast Amazon Basin.
For instance, Salati's research in the 1980s showed that more than half of the Amazon's rainfall emanates from trees, with the rest coming from vapor from surface water bodies.
Moss recently completed a seven-day research trip along the trajectory of one flying river that ends in the city of Sao Paulo. Those results showed that the wet air current flowed at 1,990 miles (3,200 kilometers) a second—about as fast as a major river.
The Brazilian rain forest's moisture is important for sustaining South American rainfall, especially the winter monsoons, noted Helene Muri, of the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.
"So if the trees are chopped down, the rainfall rates could be reduced through this mechanism," Muri said by email.
Any changes in vegetation can impact the local "water budget" and create drought conditions that impact agriculture and industry, she added.
Brazil's economy may wither if the flying rivers dry out, project founder Moss said.
Farmers in the Amazon's fertile Matto Grosso state are highly dependent on Amazon rain to grow their crops, for example. The agriculture industry in the region is extremely profitable because so little irrigation is needed.
"Rainwater has been taken for granted ... " Moss said.
"In addition, 80 percent of Brazil's energy is related to hydroelectric power, so every single drop of rain counts," Moss said. "If we start losing rain, it will have a huge impact [on our energy]."
But Moss added that the need to preserve rain forests has percolated into the public consciousness in Brazil.
"More people are realizing," he said, "that the well-being of many people in the southern parts [of Brazil] is related to every tree in the Amazon."
The Flying Rivers Project is funded by the National Water Regulatory Agency (ANA) and by Petrobras, an oil company in Brazil.
No more ebbing. Consequences? Well --
As long ago as 2009, Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned that, without the “flying rivers”, the area that produces 70% of South America’s GNP would be desert.
Now. Whether the disappearance of flying rivers are the complete explanation for the present drought in southeastern Brazil is I think still a matter for debate, at least if the February 27, 2015 graphic (below) and accompanying article at National Geographic are any indication. (Quirky Winds Fuel Brazil's Devastating Drought, Amazon's Flooding: Boom-and-bust water phenomenon could become a new normal in South America, scientists say.)
But it's possible to turn the data around and ask whether the long ebbing of the vast moisture vapors and their final disappearance condition the quirky winds that dump both deluges and drought on Brazil. Just thinking aloud.
Next stop, Sumatra. So that's our homework for the weekend: find Sumatra on a map.
Not to worry; by the end of this year we'll get an answer to the big question. By a long way around, and clambering over mountains of theories, counter-theories, speculations, satellite data, and political and uh 'geopolitical' agendas, by zipping here and there around the world, we'll finally see what the clock on the wall reads.
I'll close for this week with a quote from the Flying Rivers website:
Brazil receives more rain that any other country in the world (estimated at over 15,000 cubic kilometers per year – almost double the next best, Russia)
Russia, Russia. Let me see, isn't that where Siberia is? I think I mentioned Siberia in passing recently; yes, it was in quoting from Yale's e-360 website on the jaw-dropping satellite study released this March 20 showing the exact levels of fragmentation of the world's forests:
The few remaining large, virgin tracts of forest can be found in parts of the Amazon, Siberia, Congo, and Papua New Guinea, the study said.
The study made no reference to flying rivers but I'd tend to doubt that much in the way of flying rivers transpires from, say, New York's Central Park or Washington, DC's Rock Creek Park. I think it has to be a large massing of tree leaves to get a really big moisture trail off the ground. It's about flying rivers, not flying puddles.
Speaking of Siberia it was in the news last week because of massive wildfires in the grasslands that had killed about two score Siberians and left 5,000 homeless. Huge tracts of Siberian forest caught in the backwinds of annual grasslands roasts have also been going up in flames on an annual basis for a few years.
The fires are deliberately started. Why? People fooling around with matches, according to one RT report I saw. But it's old tradition in Siberia to use fire to clear land for spring planting. The problem is that while the tradition has stayed the same, the weather has changed:
Officials cited unseasonably dry, hot weather, "uncharacteristically strong and rough winds" and uncontrolled burning for the severity of this year's destruction. Temperatures in Khakassia hit 77 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, when the fires erupted. The region's average April temperature is just above freezing.
I guess that's just another example of those pesky "quirky" winds. And don't forget Climate Change. Do they have cows in Siberia? Well there you go; greenhouse gases. All right Pundita, that's enough.