"A River in Flux"

"Extreme flooding and droughts may be the new norm for the Amazon, challenging its people and ecosystems."

"MANAUS, Brazil—Jochen Schöngart darts back and forth along an escarpment just above the Amazon River, a short water taxi ride from downtown Manaus, Brazil. It’s still early this October morning in 2023, but it’s already hot and his face is beaded with sweat. “Look, there’s a piece of ceramic!” he says, nodding to a worn shard lodged between boulders, likely a relic of an earlier civilization. It’s not the only one.

Schöngart, a forest scientist at the National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA), stoops and stares at the bedrock at his feet. Well below the river’s normal level for this time of year, the rock bears a gallery of life-size faces, perhaps carved during a megadrought 1000 years ago. Now, they have been exposed again by a new drought, the worst in the region’s modern history.

In the previous 4 months, only a few millimeters of rain have fallen in this city of 2 million at the confluence of the Negro and Amazon rivers. Normally it gets close to a half a meter during the same period. The Amazon sank steadily beginning in June, as it does most years during the dry season. But by mid-October, the port’s river gauge reached the lowest level observed since the record began in 1902. Freighters coming up from the Atlantic Ocean—the city’s primary supply line—were blocked by shoals. Factories furloughed workers."

Daniel Grossman reports for Inside Climate News March 31, 2024. This project was originally published in Science magazine. The story was supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Pendleton Mazer Family Fund.

Source: Inside Climate News, 04/01/2024