- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

From combined dispatches

LIMA, Peru — The Amazon River, South America’s largest, is at its lowest level in the 36 years since records have been kept near its source, scientists report.

Peru’s National Port Co. has recorded the river’s level at the port of Iquitos, in northeastern Peru, since 1969. The level there last week was reported to be 349 feet above sea level, a foot below the previous record low of 350 feet.

The volume of the river’s flow was a “weak” 424,000 cubic feet per second, said hydrologist Jean-Loup Guyot. “It is quite clear that low levels have been more frequent in the past 10 years,” the French researcher told Agence France-Presse.

At 4,075 miles, the Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, after the Nile, but discharges far more water at its mouth than any other. It also drains more territory than any other, from Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela, before running across Brazil and into the Atlantic.

Low levels could cause economic havoc in regions of Peru that depend on the Amazon for shipping, by denying boats a navigable river as well as usable ports and harbors.

Juan Arboleda, a scientist with Peru’s National Meteorological Service, said the river’s lower water level already is causing problems with river transport, the main form of regional transportation.

“This year we have had adverse weather conditions that are rarely seen along the Amazon, which have resulted in less rainfall,” said Ena Jaime, a climatologist with Peru’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Service. “Because of the hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, it hasn’t rained in the jungle since August. The high rate of deforestation is also having an effect.”

Many scientists think hurricanes thousands of miles away affect weather in the Amazon because rising air in the North Atlantic, which fuels the storms, causes the air above the Amazon to descend, preventing cloud formation and rainfall.

Other meteorologists discount a link between hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and drought in the Amazon.

The Brazilian government’s National Institute of Meteorology said dry weather in the Amazon is linked to warmer Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, which changes rainfall patterns.

Since August, the Gulf of Mexico has experienced several intense hurricanes, including Katrina, which killed about 1,200 people in the United States. Flooding caused by torrential rains from Hurricane Stan killed more than 240 people in southern Mexico and Central America.

Peru’s Amazon jungle has lost 25 million acres to deforestation in recent years because of farming and drug trafficking, private studies show.

Deforestation contributes to droughts because cutting down trees reduces moisture in the air, increasing sunlight penetration onto land. It also prevents land and rivers from holding rain, causing excessive runoff and preventing the water table from increasing reserves.



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