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The Amazon: Vital for our planet

Priscila Jordão im
August 27, 2019

The rainforest provides the whole of South America with moisture, influences rainfall patterns in the region, stabilizes the world's climate and has the richest biodiversity of any ecosytem on Earth.

An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest
Image: picture-alliance/robertharding


The Amazon rainforest produces huge amounts of water — not just for Brazil, but for the whole of South America. So-called "flying rivers" carry large quantities of water vapor from the Amazon Basin to other parts of the region. These air masses are created through evapotranspiration, the sum of evaporation from sources such as flora and fauna, bodies of water and ground surfaces. In addition to Brazil, these flying rivers have an impact on rainfall in Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and even in Chile's extreme south.

According to research by the state-owned National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA), a 10-meter-diameter tree can release more than 300 liters of steam per day into the atmosphere — more than twice as much that an average Brazilian consumes daily.

The preservation of the Amazon is therefore essential for agriculture, food and energy production in Brazil.

Deforestation disrupts the evapotranspiration process and limits the range of the flying rivers, seriously impacting rainfall patterns in many South American countries. On top of this, the Amazon also supplies almost one-fifth of the fresh water which enters the world's oceans.

Read more: Opinion: Action, not outcry will save the Amazon

Climate change

The Amazon and other tropical forests store between 90 and 140 billion tons of carbon, helping to stabilize our planet's climate. The Amazon rainforest alone accounts for 10% of the Earth's total biomass. Deforestation, on the other hand, is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Felling trees and transforming the land for agricultural use releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destabilizes the climate.

An aerial picture showing fire and smoke in the Amazon rainforest
A record number of wildfires are currently threatening the Amazon rainforestImage: Getty Images/AFP/C. de Souza

The Paris Agreement signed in 2015 set the long-term goal to limit the increase of average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial era. Reaching this goal inevitably involves preserving the world's forests. UN data from 2015 revealed that Brazil is one of the ten countries with the highest concentration of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. In order to achieve this, the country has pledged to increase the amount of sustainable bioenergy in its energy mix and, among other things, the reforestation of 12 million hectares of felled forest.

Environmental balance

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, home to 10% of all known species. The world's largest tropical rainforest may also be hiding a number of species still unknown to scientists, especially in remote areas.

Preserving biodiversity is important, because it ensures long-term sustainability for all forms of life. Healthy and diverse ecosystems also recover much quicker from disasters such as forest fires.

An underwater picture of coral and fish in the Amazon Reef
The Amazon Reef is home to coral which is under threat from bleaching caused by warming temperaturesImage: Greenpeace

The conservation of biodiversity also contributues to the stabilization of other ecosytems in the region. The Amazon Reef, located just off the mouth of the Amazon River in the Atlantic Ocean, is also home to coral which is under threat from global warming.

According to biologist Carlos Eduardo Leite Ferreira from the Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, the coral from the reef could be used to help replenish damaged areas in other oceans. However oil companies such as Total SA and BP have announced plans to drill for oil near the Amazon Reef, threatening the ecosystem.

Read more: Amazon fires: Can international pressure help put them out?

Products from the rainforest

Many plant species found in the Amazon rainforest are also important for the production of certain types of medicine, food and other products. Over 10,000 species of plants provide active ingredients for medicinal use, cosmetics or the biological control of pests.

According to a study by the Federal University of ABC in Sao Paolo, the so-called 'cat's claw' which is found in the Amazon basin, isn't just benefical when it comes to treating arthritis and osteoarthritis, but can also reduce fatigue and improve the quality of life for patients with advanced-stage cancer.

Other products from the rainforest sold throughout Brazil include acai berries, guarana, tropical fruits, heart of palm and other products made by indigenous peoples. The products with the biggest export value are the Brazil nut, jarina (a species of palm), rutil and jaborani (herbal ingredients), Pau Rosa (a precious type of wood) and other kinds of resins and oils.