RAINFOR Intensive sites

Amazonia has the world’s most extensive forests, with the largest reservoir of above-ground organic carbon - around 90 Pg C in live trees alone - and the most species. They are under strong human pressure through logging, conversion and exploitation of resources. They face a warming climate and a changing atmosphere. Because of the vast scale of Amazonia, these factors have the potential to significantly modify the global atmospheric greenhouse gas burden (CO2, CH4), the earth’s climate, and the overall biodiversity of the planet. Some scenarios suggest catastrophic release of carbon from Amazon soil and vegetation this century, accelerating climate change globally even before accounting for the impacts of deforestation.

While the role of Amazonia in the carbon cycle is clearly of global importance, its behavior is contentious, even for that portion not undergoing rapid land use change. Understanding the current carbon balance of the whole system is critical to determine its role in either slowing or accelerating climate change through the 21st century. In particular, there is a need to:

  1. quantify the dominant fluxes into and out of main carbon pools in biomass and soil,
  2. the environmental controls of these fluxes,
  3. establish the infrastructure - plots, methods, expertise - to allow
  4. long-term monitoring across the vast region, and
  5. make these data freely available after sufficient quality control.

This proposal will help the only group currently active in integrating on-the-ground primary forest monitoring across the whole Amazon basin (RAINFOR) to tackle these urgent needs. Our overall goal is to determine the current carbon balance of Amazon forests, together with the associated fluxes and their sensitivity to soil and climate variability. A subsidiary goal is to improve the scientific infrastructure for future monitoring of Amazon biomass and soil carbon. The project is led by the University of Leeds and also has INPA (Brazilian Institute for Amazonian Research) as a major partner, and 30 other institutional partners world-wide. The Ecosystem Dynamics group at OUCE is specifically responsible for establishing a network of 16 intensive RAINFOR monitoring plots at 6 sites across the Amazon (in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru). At these plots, comprehensive monthly surveys of all key carbon stocks and fluxes will (1) Provide definitive baseline estimates of current forest carbon storage, and (2) Track ongoing changes in forest carbon cycling.

Where are we working?

Bullet_red - Site Bullet_blue - Plot Bullet_yellow - Field station

Photos and images

Uploaded 6 Feb 2014 by Cécile Girardin. Copyright © 2023.

Congratulations to the GEM team (Chris, Yadvinder & Liana) who co-authored a paper in Nature this week (cover story):

"The paper answers a long-standing question about the net carbon balance of the Amazon forest. It uses aircraft flights throughout the year at four different locations to measure the change in carbon dioxide concentration if air as it passes over the Amazon Basin. The study shows that in wet years and wet seasons the Amazon is a net sink (i.e. absorbs carbon) from the atmosphere, but in dry years and dry seasons it is carbon neutral or a source of carbon. Our main contribution in Oxford was to provide insight from our RAINFOR-GEM intensive monitoring plots across Amazonia, which suggest that the loss of the carbon sink was caused by a reduction in photosynthesis." (Y. Malhi blog, Feb 2014)

Gatti L.V., M. Gloor, J. B. Miller, C. E. Doughty, Y. Malhi, L. G. Domingues, L. S. Basso, A. Martinewski, C. S. C. Correia, V. F. Borges, S. Freitas, R. Braz, L. O. Anderson, H. Rocha, J. Grace, O. L. Phillips & J. Lloyd Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements, Nature 506, 76–80. Supplementary Info

Download the paper from here:

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    Yadvinder Malhi

    I am Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University.
    I lead the Ecosystems Programme at the Environmental Change Institute, with a focus of understanding the functioning of tropical forests and...

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    Oliver Phillips

    My long-term research goal is to understand the dynamics of carbon and biodiversity across the world’s tropical forests, how these change with our changing climate, and how they may feedback...

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    Cécile Girardin

    I coordinate carbon cycling data for the GEM network. I am an ecosystems scientist focussing on carbon dynamics of tropical forest ecosystems. Following my PhD at Oxford University School of...

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    Georgia Pickavance

    I am a Database Assistant, supporting the tropical forest database and associated research projects RAINFOR, Afritron and T-FORCES. I am studying for a Masters in GIS alongside my research...