Washington: In a new study, scientists have suggested that the Amazon`s "flying rivers", humid air currents that deliver water to the vast rain forest, may be ebbing, which could have dire consequences for the region`s ability to help curb global warming.
Flying rivers may transport as much water as the Amazon River itself, according to Gerard Moss, an engineer and founder of the Flying Rivers Project, an ongoing effort to document the humid air currents and their effects.
"This huge rain machine needs to be preserved," he said.
Flying Rivers Project scientists, led by agronomist and Amazon-rainfall expert Eneas Salati, have determined that a single large tree in the center of the Amazon forest can give off up to 317 quarts (300 liters) of water in a day.
In a process called evapotranspiration, trees draw water from their roots and then "transpire" some of that water back into the air.
Since 2003, Moss has flown through Brazil`s airborne rivers in a single-engine plane to collect water vapor samples.
The vapor`s chemical "footprints" are then analyzed at the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA) in Piracicaba, in the state of Sao Paulo.
The project`s goal has been to figure out where the water comes from and then map how wind currents carry water across the vast Amazon Basin.
Moss recently completed a seven-day research trip along the trajectory of one flying river that ends in the city of Sao Paulo.
Those results showed that the wet air current flowed at 1,990 miles (3,200 kilometers) a second-about as fast as a major river.
The Brazilian rain forest`s moisture is important for sustaining South American rainfall, especially the winter monsoons, noted Helene Muri, of the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.
"So if the trees are chopped down, the rainfall rates could be reduced through this mechanism," Muri said.
According to Muri, any changes in vegetation can impact the local "water budget" and create drought conditions that impact agriculture and industry.
"Brazil`s economy may wither if the flying rivers dry out," project founder Moss said.