Amazon Basin: A System in Equilibrium

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Science  13 Jul 1984:
Vol. 225, Issue 4658, pp. 129-138
DOI: 10.1126/science.225.4658.129


Despite the very active deforestation of the last decade, the Amazon Basin is still primarily covered with trees and is a system in equilibrium. The Andes form a barrier at the western end of the basin and, coupled with the prevailing easterly winds, ensure an almost unique precipitation and water-recycling regime. On average 50 percent of the precipitation is recycled, and in some areas even more. The soils are poor. Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus is found in the soil, and the remaining nutrient elements are found in the standing biomass. There is some nutrient recycling and little loss from the intact ecosystem, and the small input of nutrients from precipitation maintains a small positive nutrient balance. Continued large-scale deforestation is likely to lead to increased erosion and water runoff with initial flooding in the lower Amazon, together with reduced evapotranspiration and ultimately reduced precipitation. Reduced precipitation in the Amazon could increase the tendency toward continentality and adversely affect climate and the present agriculture in south-central Brazil.

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