The Amazon Rainforest (in Portuguese, Floresta Amazônica or Amazônia; Spanish Selva Amazónica, Amazonía or usually Amazonia), also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America. This basin encompasses seven million square kilometers (1.7 billion acres), of which five and a half million square kilometers (1.4 billion acres) are covered by the rainforest. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, and with minor amounts in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and France (French Guiana). States or departments in four nations bear the name Amazonas after it. The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and it comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world.
The Amazon rainforest was short-listed in 2008 as a candidate to one of the New7Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation. As of February 2009 the Amazon was ranking first in Group E, the category for forests, national parks and nature reserves.
EtymologyThe name Amazon is said to arise from a war Francisco de Orellana fought with a tribe of Tapuyas and other tribes from South America. The women of the tribe fought alongside the men, as was the custom among the entire tribe. Orellana derived the name Amazonas from the ancient Amazons of Asia and Africa described by Herodotus and Diodorus in Greek legends.
HistoryEocene era. It appeared following a global reduction of tropical temperatures when the Atlantic Ocean had widened sufficiently to provide a warm, moist climate to the Amazon basin. The rain forest has been in existence for at least 55 million years, and most of the region remained free of savanna-type biomes at least until the current ice age, when the climate was drier and savanna more widespread.
Following the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, the extinction of the dinosaurs and the wetter climate may have allowed the tropical rainforest to spread out across the continent. From 65–34 Mya, the rainforest extended as far south as 45°. Climate fluctuations during the last 34 million years have allowed savanna regions to expand into the tropics. During the Oligocene, for example, the rainforest spanned a relatively narrow band that lay mostly above latitude 15°N. It expanded again during the Middle Miocene, then retracted to a mostly inland formation at the last glacial maximum. However, the rainforest still managed to thrive during these glacial periods, allowing for the survival and evolution of a broad diversity of species.
During the mid-Eocene, it is believed that the drainage basin of the Amazon was split along the middle of the continent by the Purus Arch. Water on the eastern side flowed toward the Atlantic, while to the west water flowed toward the Pacific across the Amazonas Basin. As the Andes Mountains rose, however, a large basin was created that enclosed a lake; now known as the Solimões Basin. Within the last 5–10 million years, this accumulating water broke through the Purus Arch, joining the easterly flow toward the Atlantic.
There is evidence that there have been significant changes in Amazon rainforest vegetation over the last 21,000 years through the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and subsequent deglaciation. Analyses of sediment deposits from Amazon basin paleolakes and from the Amazon Fan indicate that rainfall in the basin during the LGM was lower than for the present, and this was almost certainly associated with reduced moist tropical vegetation cover in the basin. There is debate, however, over how extensive this reduction was. Some scientists argue that the rainforest was reduced to small, isolated refugia separated by open forest and grassland; other scientists argue that the rainforest remained largely intact but extended less far to the north, south, and east than is seen today. This debate has proved difficult to resolve because the practical limitations of working in the rainforest mean that data sampling is biased away from the center of the Amazon basin, and both explanations are reasonably well supported by the available data.
Based on archaeological evidence from an excavation at Caverna da Pedra Pintada, human inhabitants first settled in the Amazon region at least 11,200 years ago. Subsequent development led to late-prehistoric settlements along the periphery of the forest by 1250 AD, which induced alterations in the forest cover. Biologists believe that a population density of 0.2 inhabitants per square kilometre (0.52 /sq mi) is the maximum that can be sustained in the rain forest through hunting. Hence, agriculture is needed to host a larger population.
Some 5 to 7 million people lived in the Amazon region, divided between dense coastal settlements, such as that at Marajó, and inland dwellers. For a long time, it was believed that those inland dwellers were sparsely populated hunter-gatherer tribes. Archeologist Betty J. Meggers was a prominent proponent of this idea, as described in her book Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise. However, recent archeological findings have suggested that the region was actually densely populated.
One of the main pieces of evidence is the existence of the fertile Terra preta (black earth), which is distributed over large areas in the Amazon forest. It is now widely accepted that these soils are a product of indigenous soil management. The development of this soil allowed agriculture and silviculture in the previously hostile environment; meaning that large portions of the Amazon rainforest are probably the result of centuries of human management, rather than naturally occurring as has previously been supposed. In the region of the Xinguanos tribe, remains of some of these large settlements in the middle of the Amazon forest were found in 2003 by Michael Heckenberger and colleagues of the University of Florida. Among those were evidence of roads, bridges and large plazas.
Conservation and climate changeEnvironmentalists are concerned about loss of biodiversity that will result from destruction of the forest, and also about the release of the carbon contained within the vegetation, which could accelerate global warming. Amazonian evergreen forests account for about 10% of the world's terrestrial primary productivity and 10% of the carbon stores in ecosystems—of the order of 1.1 × 1011 metric tonnes of carbon. Amazonian forests are estimated to have accumulated 0.62 ± 0.37 tons of carbon per hectare per year between 1975 and 1996.
One computer model of future climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions shows that the Amazon rainforest could become unsustainable under conditions of severely reduced rainfall and increased temperatures, leading to an almost complete loss of rainforest cover in the basin by 2100. However, simulations of Amazon basin climate change across many different models are not consistent in their estimation of any rainfall response, ranging from weak increases to strong decreases. The result indicates that the rainforest could be threatened though the 21st century by climate change in addition to deforestation.
In 1989, environmentalist C.M. Peters and two colleagues stated there is economic as well as biological incentive to protecting the rainforest. One hectare in the Peruvian Amazon has been calculated to have a value of $6820 if intact forest is sustainably harvested for fruits, latex, and timber; $1000 if clear-cut for commercial timber (not sustainably harvested); or $148 if used as cattle pasture.
As indigenous territories continue to be destroyed by deforestation and ecocide, such as in the Peruvian Amazon indigenous peoples' rainforest communities continue to disappear, while others, like the Urarina continue to struggle to fight for their cultural survival and the fate of their forested territories. Meanwhile, the relationship between non-human primates in the subsistence and symbolism of indigenous lowland South American peoples has gained increased attention, as has ethno-biology and community-based conservation efforts.
From 2002 to 2006, the conserved land in the Amazon rainforest has almost tripled and deforestation rates have dropped up to 60%. About 1,000,000 square kilometres (250,000,000 acres) have been put onto some sort of conservation, which adds up to a current amount of 1,730,000 square kilometres (430,000,000 acres).
Remote sensingremotely sensed data is dramatically improving conservationists' knowledge of the Amazon Basin. Given the objectivity and lowered costs of satellite-based land cover analysis, it appears likely that remote sensing technology will be an integral part of assessing the extent and damage of deforestation in the basin. Furthermore, remote sensing is the best and perhaps only possible way to study the Amazon on a large-scale.
The use of remote sensing for the conservation of the Amazon is also being used by the indigenous tribes of the basin to protect their tribal lands from commercial interests. Using handheld GPS devices and programs like Google Earth, members of the Trio Tribe, who live in the rainforests of southern Suriname, map out their ancestral lands to help strengthen their territorial claims. Currently, most tribes in the Amazon do not have clearly defined boundaries, making it easier for commercial ventures to target their territories.
To accurately map the Amazon's biomass and subsequent carbon related emissions, the classification of tree growth stages within different parts of the forest is crucial. In 2006 Tatiana Kuplich organized the trees of the Amazon into four categories: (1) mature forest, (2) regenerating forest [less than three years], (3) regenerating forest [between three and five years of regrowth], and (4) regenerating forest [eleven to eighteen years of continued development]. The researcher used a combination of Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and Thematic Mapper (TM) to accurately place the different portions of the Amazon into one of the four classifications.
Impact of early 21st century Amazon droughtsIn 2005, parts of the Amazon basin experienced the worst drought in one hundred years, and there were indications that 2006 could have been a second successive year of drought. A July 23, 2006 article in the UK newspaper The Independent reported Woods Hole Research Center results showing that the forest in its present form could survive only three years of drought. Scientists at the Brazilian National Institute of Amazonian Research argue in the article that this drought response, coupled with the effects of deforestation on regional climate, are pushing the rainforest towards a "tipping point" where it would irreversibly start to die. It concludes that the forest is on the brink of being turned into savanna or desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the combination of climate change and deforestation increases the drying effect of dead trees that fuels forest fires.
In 2010 the Amazon rainforest experienced another severe drought, in some ways more extreme than the 2005 drought. The affected region was approximate 1,160,000 square miles (3,000,000 km2) of rainforest, compared to 734,000 square miles (1,900,000 km2) in 2005. The 2010 drought had three epicenters where vegetation died off, whereas in 2005 the drought was focused on the southwestern part. The findings were published in the journal Science. In a typical year the Amazon absorbs 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide; during 2005 instead 5 gigatons were released and in 2010 8 gigatons were released