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10.11.2005

Amazon rainforest suffers worst drought in decades

One can only imagine the consequences of upsetting one of the world's most important ecosystems. The world's natural climate is in a state of flux right now, and there are countless examples of flora and fauna not being able to adapt and just dying off. These are our initial indicators of global climate disruption.

From Reuters

MANAQUIRI, Brazil (Reuters) - The worst drought in more than 40 years is damaging the world's biggest rainforest, plaguing the Amazon basin with wildfires, sickening river dwellers with tainted drinking water, and killing fish by the millions as streams dry up.

"What's awful for us is that all these fish have died and when the water returns there will be barely any more," Donisvaldo Mendonca da Silva, a 33-year-old fisherman, said.

Nearby, scores of piranhas shook in spasms in two inches of water -- what was left of the once flowing Parana de Manaquiri river, an Amazon tributary. Thousands of rotting fish lined the its dry banks.

The governor of Amazonas, a state the size of Alaska, has declared 16 municipalities in crisis as the two-month-long drought strands river dwellers who cannot find food or sell crops.

Some scientists blame higher ocean temperatures stemming from global warming, which have also been linked to a recent string of unusually deadly hurricanes in the United States and Central America.

Rising air in the north Atlantic, which fuels storms, may have caused air above the Amazon to descend and prevented cloud formations and rainfall, according to some scientists.

"If the warming of the north Atlantic is the smoking gun, it really shows how the world is changing," said Dan Nepstadt, an ecologist from the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Institute, funded by the U.S. government and private grants.

"The Amazon is a canary in a coal mine for the earth. As we enter a warming trend we are in uncertain territory," he said.

Deforestation may also have contributed to the drought because cutting down trees cuts moisture in the air, increasing sunlight penetration onto land.

Other scientists say severe droughts were normal and occurred in cycles before global warming started.