Stay informed with free updates
Just register climate change myFT Digest – delivered straight to your inbox.
River levels in the Amazon rainforest have fallen to record lows as one of the region’s worst-ever droughts deals a heavy blow to an ecosystem crucial to global climate stability.
Authorities in Brazil’s Amazonas state reported on Monday that the water level of the Rio Negro, one of the world’s largest rivers, had dropped to a record low of 13.59 meters near the city of Manaus.
“We have never seen anything like this. This is the worst drought in history,” said Amazonas state governor Wilson Lima, who has declared a state of emergency in more than 50 towns.
The Amazon’s role as a huge absorber of carbon dioxide has been hampered in recent years by rising levels of deforestation. Parts of the world’s largest rainforest are also increasingly prone to fires, which weather experts say are now being exacerbated by drought.
It was the worst October fires in the Amazon state since records began 25 years ago, with more than 2,700 fires reported so far this month, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.
Scientists say the drought is caused by a combination of El Niño weather events, which warm the surface of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, and unusually warm waters in the Atlantic Ocean above the equator.
These factors combine to suppress cloud formation, causing rainfall to drop dramatically. In the Amazon basin city of Belem, rainfall last month was a quarter of normal levels for September.
A state of emergency has been declared for all seven stretches of the Upper Solimons River and all eight stretches of the Middle Solimons River. The name Solimos is usually used to refer to the upper reaches of the Amazon River, between Manaus and the Peruvian border.
Images from the area show that normally raging rivers are now completely dry. According to authorities in Amazonas state, about half a million residents have been affected.
With barren rivers, major shipping routes have come to a standstill, leading to sharp reductions in supplies of food, fuel and basic commodities in many parts of the region. Scientists have also warned of possible disease outbreaks, including malaria and hepatitis A.
The drought has also taken a toll on the region’s native wildlife, with dozens of native pink Amazon river dolphins washing up dead on the coast in recent weeks.
Earlier this year, scientists warned that El Niño could exacerbate already changing weather patterns in the region.
“El Niño is making the region hotter and drier, and that’s natural. The problem is that the climate has already happened,” said Erika Berenguer, a Brazilian researcher at the University of Oxford and Lancaster University in the UK. changed. She pointed out that the average dry season temperature in some areas is now 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than before.
“We are facing a stronger, more intense dry season. This increases the likelihood of forest fires.”
Additional reporting by Beatrice Langella
Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here.
Are you curious about the Financial Times’ commitment to environmental sustainability?Learn more about our science-based goals here