Cynthia O’Carroll

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

(Phone: 301/614-5563)

Release No. 00-83

A new field research facility in the Amazon rainforest sponsored by
NASA and the Brazilian government will be completed this month as
part of an experiment to study the region’s impact on global change
and develop information for sustainable resource management
solutions. Extensive ecological field studies get underway this
summer during the region’s dry season.

First-of-a-kind experiments on the impact of logging on
tropical ecosystems will be among the studies conducted at the
facility near the Amazon River city of Santarém in the northern
Brazilian state of Pará. Over 150 scientists and students from
Brazil, the United States, Europe, and several South American
countries are involved in research at the facility.

The studies are part of the Brazilian-led “Large Scale
Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia” (LBA), a multi-year
project that integrates meteorological, hydrological, ecological and
land use research across the Amazon.

“LBA seeks to understand the function of the vast Amazon region
within the Earth system,” says Michael Keller of the U. S. Forest
Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry. “From an
ecological point of view, we want to get a detailed picture of both
the natural cycles of change and the changes brought on by land use
decisions.” Keller is project scientist for the LBA ecological

In addition to the more than 30 ecological projects being funded by
NASA, LBA includes extensive research on the meteorology and
hydrology of the region. NASA’s LBA research began in 1998.

Using data from field work and observations from space by
Landsat 7, Terra, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM),
LBA scientists will produce an integrated analysis of the complex
biological, chemical, and atmospheric processes that drive this
massive ecosystem at scales ranging from one-meter plots to the
entire Amazon region. This analysis will be used to study potential
future scenarios for the Amazon.

Santarém will be the main LBA ecological field site for
NASA-sponsored investigations, joining a network of nine other sites
in different parts of the Brazilian Amazon. New laboratories in
Santarém and three field stations south of the city make up the
research facility, which is sponsored by NASA and the Brazilian
Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources.

The main field station is in an area of primary, or undisturbed,
forest in the Tapajós National Forest where measurements of
vegetation and the flow of atmospheric carbon and water will be made
on the ground and from a 150-foot (45-meter) walk-up tower into the
forest canopy and a 210-foot (65-meter) instrumented tower that
reaches above the canopy.

Another field station in the national forest with similar instruments
will monitor the forest in its undisturbed state and after it is
logged next year so scientists can study how the forest recovers. A
third site outside the forest will monitor carbon and water exchanges
in a pasture. With data from all these sites, scientists will make
the first three-way comparison of carbon, trace gases, water, and
energy exchanges from pristine tropical forests, logged forests, and
pasture land, says Keller.

Tower and ground-based measurements will capture the entire
cycle of water, nutrients, and carbon moving in and out of the
ecosystem. This data will help scientists understand why the vast
Amazon region appears to fluctuate between being a net source of
carbon to the atmosphere and a net sink for atmospheric carbon.

On June 20, Darrell A. Jenks, science counselor for the U. S.
Embassy in Brazil, toured the forest field stations and participated
in a roundtable discussion with LBA scientists at the facility’s base
camp. “This base camp includes temporary living quarters for up to 40
people and is expected to be completely occupied in July,” says
Donald Deering of Goddard Space Flight Center, project manager for
NASA’s ecological research in LBA and a participant in the roundtable

In addition to research in the biological and physical sciences, LBA
sponsors social science research into the reasons for and effects of
human land-use decisions in the region. Ongoing surveys of land
owners and land managers are being conducted to investigate how
individual decision-makers are affecting the forest and, in turn, how
their decisions are influenced by natural changes in the forest
brought on by such phenomenon as El Ninõ.

Other NASA-sponsored LBA research projects include:

  • a controlled experiment that will exclude rainfall from a section
    of forest to study how drought stress makes a forest more flammable,

  • creation of the first high-resolution map of the extent of flooding
    across the entire Amazon basin from space-based radar data,

  • tests of the ability of NASA’s new Terra spacecraft to detect and
    measure rates of land-cover change,

  • analysis of the long-term impact of smoke from biomass burning on
    the vegetation and atmosphere of the Amazon basin, and

  • investigation into how logging makes forests vulnerable to the
    spread of fire.

    LBA is organized by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research with
    participation by programs from many other nations and NASA’s Land
    Cover and Land Use Change, Hydrology, and Terrestrial Ecology
    programs and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission.

    NASA is working collaboratively on LBA projects with the Brazilian
    Institute for Space Research, the Brazilian Institute for the
    Environment and Renewable Resources, the Brazilian Enterprise for
    Research in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, the Brazilian Institute
    for Amazonian Research, and many Brazilian universities. Initial
    results from LBA research will be presented June 26-30 at the first
    LBA scientific conference in Belém, Brazil.

    More information on the LBA project can be found on the World
    Wide Web at Color images of
    the field station research tower and a Landsat 7 view of the region,
    showing areas of deforestation, are available at