The Flying Rivers Project
The Flying Rivers project seeks to quantify the amount of water vapour transported by these invisible rivers passing over our heads. They may well account for a volume of water equivalent to the flow of the mighty Amazon River itself, estimated at 200,000 cubic metres per second: the most powerful discharge of any single river in the world.
The lower half of Brazil, essentially the country’s agricultural heartland and industrial powerhouse, depends heavily on its hereto reliable and abundant rainfall. 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) and, until recently, has relied on hydro power for up to 90% of its energy requirements.
View the current uncertainty regarding the long-term impact of global warming and climate change, it is increasingly important to keep abreast of new data in order to have a better understanding of how the climate works.
By following the same westerly direction as the trade winds and collecting samples of airborne water vapour from locations as diverse as above the Amazon delta or the westernmost borders of Brazil, it is hoped to establish how often the humidity is recycled to the atmosphere after rainfall through evapotranspiration from the rainforest. By demonstrating this essential role played by the trees, it is hoped to increase awareness of the importance of maintaining the forest alive and well, so that the whole process, and the rainfall that is eventually generated, may continue indefinitely.
The Flying Rivers project was conceived by Gérard Moss, who undertakes all the active flying and collecting of samples, in addition to securing funding and overall project coordination. Analysis of the samples, interpretation of the data and assessment of the results are in the capable hands of a team of renowned Brazilian scientists, spearheaded by the eminent Prof. Eneas Salati. Back in the 70s, it was 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.
It is a complex issue. The moisture-laden trade winds initially bring humidity off the Atlantic to the mouth of the giant river, and then carry it inland across the continent in an on-going process of rainfall/evapotranspiration/rainfall until coming up against the wall of the Andes. As the Cordillera forces the winds to swerve southwards, they continue carrying the moisture generated by the forest to other regions of the continent.
The big question is, what might happen in the south if the rainforest is destroyed to make way for yet more pasture, soya and sugarcane? If the hydrological cycle stops pumping out such huge volumes of humidity?
The first phase of the project was carried out in 2007 and 2008, when the flying river trajectories were monitored and 500 samples of water vapour were collected for analysis by the team at CENA, Piracicaba.
Now, in the new phase of the project (2010/2012), in addition to collecting further samples of airborne moisture, much emphasis will be given to education. In five pre-selected cites in the southern half of the country – Uberlandia, Ribeirao Preto, Londrina, Chapeco and Santa Maria –, municipal teachers will be trained to give lessons on the phenomenon to school-children. It is hoped that when young people learn how that ever-so-distant rainforest actually has an impact on their daily lives, they will understand the significance of preserving it for their own future well-being.
- To try to ascertain the origin of the water vapour, rainwater and river water in the areas crossed by the flying rivers.
- To promote a better scientific understanding of these processes and their importance in rainfall patterns in central and southern Brazil.
- To help Brazil’s large urban population – the man in the street – understand the importance of protecting the true source of the water resources upon which they depend for drinking, domestic and industrial usage, energy and agriculture.
- To raise awareness of the rôle played by the Amazon rainforest in generating the water that turns the great powerhouse of Brazil’s economic activities, and put a value on its preservation.