Brazil Shows UK its “Living Amazon Laboratory”

Brazilian science and technology took centre stage at one of the world’s leading public galleries during July, when London’s Science Museum staged a special exhibit of all things Brazilian to catch the uplift in popular interest generated by the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The free-access Science Museum attracts almost three million visitors a year and plays an important role in Science education in the UK.

London's Science Museum

London’s Science Museum

At special “late show” viewings held after normal closing hours, thousands of invited visitors including opinion-formers, scientists and journalists enjoyed a special Brazilian science and culture-themed exhibit at the Cromwell Road galleries.

As well as more predictable crowd-pulling activities like football, samba, capoeira martial arts and rum-based cachaça drinks for the adult audience, there was some serious science on view too.

After closing time, the Museum fills up with professional visitors

After closing time, the Museum fills up with professional visitors

You can find out more about the Science Museum Project by clicking here.

In the UK media, publications including TimeOut, Metro and the Evening Standard newspaper featured articles on the event.

The keynote of the special exhibit was Antenna Live: Sky Sensors. The Amazon rainforest is known as ‘the lungs of the Earth’, but it’s under threat due to climate change. So visitors were invited to meet the climate scientists from Manchester and São Paulo and see their cutting-edge equipment for sensing air pollution.

This equipment – and the story it has to tell – shows how changes to the atmosphere and rainfall patterns in the Brazilian Amazon have an effect on global weather patterns. Today’s drier weather cycles affecting the American crop breadbasket, sudden tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, and even potential shifts to the Gulf Stream, might all have their origin in the Amazon.

Manaus in Amazonia is a test-case for climate studies.

Manaus in Amazonia is a test-case for climate studies.

The lessons learned in the Brazilian Amazon could be applicable to cities in other nations with tropical forests where rapid urbanisation and industrial growth is taking place, such as Indonesia the Philippines or across Africa.

Brazilian scientist Paulo Artaxo, who holds a doctorate in atmospheric physics from São Paulo state university (USP), was a star attraction at the “lates” event. He teamed up with research colleague Dr Gordon McFiggans from the University of Manchester. The two senior scientists are involved in two major Amazon-based atmospheric and climate change research projects named GOAmazon and SAMBA.

On the 30th and 31st of July, Dr Artaxo delivered a series of informal talks about his work with the aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) in the region of the Amazon city of Manaus. Using the AMS, Artaxo and a large international team have begun measuring the effects of man-made atmospheric pollution on the surviving rainforest around the city.

Online interaction allows many thousands to learn about Dr Artaxo's work

Online interaction allows many thousands to learn about Dr Artaxo’s work

Above all, the research will show how carbon particles resulting either from urban pollution in Manaus or the burning of timber following deforestation in the surrounding area, could affect climate change not just in Brazil, but globally.

“Our study is of fundamental importance for understanding weather patterns and for urban planning not only in Brazil, but in every country with tropical forests where rapid transformation is taking place in terms of urban expansion,” Dr Artaxo told Science for Brazil. “Countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria will surely learn a lot from our study,” he added.

Dr Artaxo was clearly delighted with the degree of interaction delivered by the Science Museum’s evening events. “In one single morning here in London I have had more fruitful interaction with students and interested members of the public than I would normally have during a whole year in Brazil,” he told Science for Brazil.

“Paulo Artaxo spent two days and an evening with the Science Museum’s visitors, explaining his team’s latest research on air pollution in the Amazon, as part of our Sky Sensors event. His team’s research is also featured in a new exhibit in the museum, which will enable visitors to better understand this significant area of research,” Rohan Mehra, Exhibition Content Developer at the Science Museum told Science for Brazil.

You can read a more detailed article about GOAmazon and its international sponsors from the US, Germany, Brazil and UK  by clicking here.

Satellite view of Amazonia. Does pollution influence tropical rainfall?

Satellite view of Amazonia. Does pollution influence tropical rainfall?

In addition to live interaction with Dr Artaxo during the temporary exhibition, visitors to the Science Museum will continue to be able learn about GOAmazon and SAMBA through the interactive display modules on view in the galleries during summer 2014. Additionally, visitors can leave questions and comments for the Anglo-Brazilian research teams. You can explore the Science Museum’s interactive panels on Dr Artaxo’s views of Brazil and its climate change by clicking here.

One consequence of pollution is to increase the number of carbon-based particles suspended in the atmosphere. These in turn encourage the formation of raindrops with a smaller circumference than is normal in pristine tropical environments – so changing rainfall and weather patterns.

“This device will allow us to measure the climate change effect of emissions produced as a result deforestation – not just locally, but around the world,” said Artaxo. The scientist is a member of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) as well as seven other international scientific panels. In Brazil he is responsible for the Climate Change programme of FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation), the lead agency responsible for funding the GOAmazon Project he described to an audience at the London Science Museum.

GOAmazon Project containers on site in Manaus  (Foto FAPESP)

GOAmazon Project containers on site in Manaus (Foto FAPESP)

During the demonstrations, the AMS spectrometer was switched on, allowing it to measure volume and size of particles suspended in the air of the museum galleries. At the end of the demonstration on July 30th, when around 3,500 people were present in the galleries, the device measured around 20,000 suspended atmospheric particles per cubic metre of air.

Those listening to Artaxo’s presentation were astonished to hear that an AMS –equipped plane flying over Amazonia had recorded particle densities of double this level, during the dry season when farmers and ranchers burn those trees they have felled.

The Science Museum’s series of late-night events – known simply as “lates” – allow professional people and opinion formers to visit the museum after work for special events. This also allows busy professionals to avoid the crowds of school-age visitors who throng the galleries during the daytime.

Paulo Artaxo was presenting two projects that are co-financed by Brazil’s FAPESP agency, as well as having links to UK institutions including the MET office.

SAMBA stands for South American Biomass Burning Analysis and analyses the suspended smoke and biomass particles that result for the immense forest fires or “queimadas” that cast a pall over Amazonia during the dry summer months. This study is being carried out in partnership with the University of Manchester and Dr McFiggans’ team.

The second and larger project is GOAmazon or Green Ocean Amazon. This Project is designed to measure the long-term impact upon still-pristine areas of tropical forest caused by human activity (especially urban industrial pollution) in the Amazon city of Manaus.

“Green Ocean” is so named because researchers have long noted how developing rainstorms above the forest canopy look identical to rainstorms developing over the open ocean. And indeed the meteorological processes are similar, with huge amounts of fresh water being evaporated from ocean and forest cover alike, only to fall back as rain.

Amazon rainfall:  does pollution affect raindrop size? (foto Wikimedia)

Amazon rainfall: does pollution affect raindrop size? (foto Wikimedia)

Anyone who’s been caught in a sudden Amazonian rainstorm will have marvelled at its intensity and the huge size of the raindrops. Indeed, the surface dynamics of water droplets are such that precipitation in pristine tropical areas of central Amazonia comes as sudden heavy rainfall, rather than the fine mist more often found to the West on the slopes of the Andes. The result is that water is quickly recycled into the tropical forest canopy, encouraging yet more luxuriant plant growth.

The droplet dynamics quickly change, however, once fine particles of pollution are suspended in the air. Even small amounts of smoke or carbon could be responsible for creating smaller water droplets that fall as mist – and less exuberant rainfall, resulting in a general drying out of the forest and dieback of vegetation. No one’s quite sure yet.

Uniquely, Manaus is a city of almost two million inhabitants and an advanced industrial infrastructure, located at the centre of a 2,000-km wide circle of rainforest. Easterly-flowing prevailing winds spread a plume of polluted air across the forest, allowing researchers to measure the effects upon vegetation and climate.

GOAmazon analyses the impact of these smoke emissions from Manaus, and their interaction with the natural emissions of CO2 and other gases from the pristine forest.

View from space of  human induced burning on forest  (foto Wikimedia)

View from space of human induced burning on forest (foto Wikimedia)

The Science Museum gathered expert testimonials from scientists and opinion formers, commenting on the importance of Dr Artaxo’s work. “The Amazon is critical for regulating the atmosphere and feeding people,” believes Damian Fleming, of WWF.” “The use of data, from projects like GO Amazon, would encourage greener ways of doing things and show what we are doing towards getting cleaner air,” adds Monica Niermann of Planet First.

"Late" galleries at the Science Museum

“Late” galleries at the Science Museum

The GOAmazon display in London was sponsored jointly by FAPESP of Brazil and the Science Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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