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Tree-Cutting Impairs Amazon's Rain-Giving 'Sky Rivers': Study

Scientists say tree cutting is hurting the ability of Brazil’s immense jungle to pull enough water through tree roots to supply gigantic "sky rivers."

Scientists say tree cutting is hindering the ability of Brazil’s immense jungle to absorb carbon from the air — and to pull enough water through tree roots to supply gigantic "sky rivers" that move more moisture than the Amazon river itself. More than two-thirds of the rain in southeastern Brazil, home to 40 percent of its population, comes from these sky rivers, studies estimate. When they dry up, drought follows, scientists believe.

It's not just Brazil but South America as a whole for which these rivers in the sky play a pivotal meteorological role, according to a recent study by a top Brazilian climate scientist, Antonio Nobre of the government's Center for Earth System Science. The study draws together data from multiple researchers to show that the Amazon may be closer to a tipping point than the government has acknowledged and that the changes could be a threat to climates around the globe. His work is causing a stir in drought-stricken Brazil as environmental negotiators meet in neighboring Peru at the Dec. 1-12 U.N. climate talks.

— The Associated Press
Image: Receding water line in Brazilian reservoir
The remains of a car is revealed by the receding water line in the reservoir behind the Atibainha dam, part of the Cantareira System that provides water to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Researchers say "sky rivers" generated by the Amazon forest act as a massive pump to draw moist air currents from the Atlantic Ocean much farther inland than areas that don’t have forests. Those currents travel west across the continent until they hit the Andes mountains, where they pivot and carry rains south to Buenos Aires and east to Sao Paulo.Andre Penner / AP