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Huge observation tower takes shape in Amazon rainforest

Taller than the Eiffel Tower, the new Brazilian-German ATTO monitoring tower is being built in the heart of pristine Amazon rainforest in a bid to deepen understanding of weather, climate and the Earth's atmosphere.

15.09.2014
Huge observation tower takes shape in Amazon rainforest

By Ben Tavener

SAO PAULO 

Work has begun on a giant observation tower in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in a bid to boost understanding of atmospheric interactions, including global climate change, one of the project's coordinators confirmed to the Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday.

Once complete, the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) is expected to rise some 330 meters (1,082 ft.) from the forest floor, in an area approx. 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of the Amazonian city of Manaus, capital of Brazil's Amazonas state. 

The tower, a joint project between the Brazilian National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA) and Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, is set to gather data on the atmosphere, including greenhouse gases, aerosol particles and the weather. The 8.4 million euro (US$10.9 million) cost of the tower and its monitoring equipment is being shared equally between Germany and Brazil and the information will be colleted continuously for the next 20 years. 

The tower's metal skeleton traveled about 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from the southern state of Paraná to its Amazon location. Its huge height means the tower will be able to investigate the alteration and movement of air masses through the forest over a distance of hundreds of kilometers, the project's leaders say.

Professor Paulo Eduardo Artaxo Netto, ATTO coordinator and leading physicist at Brazil's University of São Paulo, told the Anadolu Agency that the new tower will make it possible to gain exciting new insights into the workings of the rainforest.

"We already have four 80-meter towers up and running, which have been working over the last two years to give us huge amounts of data on how the rainforest deals with aerosols, and we are preparing new publications on that already," he said.

"However, the smaller towers are limited, and this huge new tower will vastly increase both the quality and the quantity of information we can receive, as a series of platforms at those heights equates to a 'footprint' – the area of influence that the forest has on the atmosphere – that is many times bigger," Netto said.

The climate expert said that one of the project's biggest hopes for ATTO is that it will bring new insights into how the forest responds to and interacts with the planet's carbon balance, one of the focuses of the tower's initial 20-year lifespan.

- 'Unique facility'

The tower is being sited in a location away from major human settlements and interference to give the best possible readings. Low-impact lodgings for around 25 people will support the towers.

Professor Jürgen Kesselmeier, project coordinator at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said ATTO will provide scientists with unprecedented detail as to how air masses are influenced by the vast forest.

"ATTO will be a unique facility in South America. The location in the Brazilian Amazon is of the highest scientific interest because the Amazon rainforest is still the largest contiguous rainforest on earth," Kesselmeier was quoted by the Max Planck Institute as saying.

"The height of the measuring tower will allow us to investigate the transport of air masses and their alteration through the forest over a distance of several hundred kilometers," the scientist continued.

According to the Max Planck Institute, the Amazon "produces half of the world's oxygen, impacts the water cycle through evaporation, and stabilizes the climate."

- Global interest in local issues

Although it is hoped that ATTO will provide answers to questions on global issues, such as climate change, Brazil will be keen to see if the project will yield answers for problems that are closer to home.

Large parts of the South American country, including its economic powerhouse state of São Paulo, are experiencing severe droughts that have been attributed to a change in rains from the Amazon due to deforestation.

Although police in Brazil have recently launched major anti-deforestation operations, arresting key figures in illegal logging, there is still a lot of concern about the rate of deforestation in Brazil and the neighboring eight countries that also share the globally-important rainforest.

Last week it was confirmed that the rate of deforestation in Brazil had again increased after years of decline. Local government figures showed destruction of the forest had increased by 29 percent in the year to July 2013 - equivalent to an area of almost 6,000-square kilometers (2,315-square miles).

Forests have been cleared to make way for new beef cattle grazing and soybean plantations, exports of which have soared in recent years.

This latest warning of deforestation in Brazil comes amid reports of a new surge in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Greenhouse gases reached a record high in 2013, new figures suggest. Between 2012 and 2013 concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere grew at their fastest rate since 1984, the World Meteorological Organization warned.

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