Amazing Facts about the Amazon Rainforest
As mysterious as it is breathtaking, the Amazon Rainforest remains one of the most written about and studied ecosystems on earth. Here are a few amazing facts you probably didn’t know about the great Amazon rainforest.
It’s mindbogglingly huge
Two and a half million square miles, to be precise. The world’s largest rainforest can be found across nine Latin American countries. In fact, if it were a country itself, it would be the ninth largest in the world. For some more perspective, The United Kingdom and Ireland could fit into it 17 times over.
Diversity is off the charts
Although these numbers are contentious, best scientific estimates suggest there are at least 40,000 plant species, 3,000 types of fish, 1,300 bird species, 430 mammals, and a staggering 2.5 million different kinds of insects.
Quite a few humans live there too
The great rainforest may conjure up images of exotic and possibly terrifying wildlife, though its human population is actually quite significant as well. Some 21 million people call the Amazon home, including an estimated 50 remote tribes who have not yet made contact with modern civilization.
It’s not really the lungs of the earth
This misconceived moniker comes from the fact the rainforest pumps out a staggering 20% of the world’s oxygen each day, far more than any other ecosystem. While that may be true, its decomposing plant matter also puts out roughly the same amount of CO2, meaning the great rainforest is more or less in equilibrium. The vast majority of the oxygen we breath actually comes from microorganisms throughout the world’s oceans.
The Amazon Rainforest’s astonishing rates of photosynthesis means all those trees do an incredible job of keeping our planet’s air clear and filtered for us to breathe, as well as making a huge contribution to slowing down global warming. Sucking in vast quantities of carbon dioxide (largely man-made through the burning of fossil fuels), the forest converts this to oxygen and releases it back into the atmosphere. Additionally, it harnesses the remaining carbon for growth, which is then stored in the trees – thus deforestation is doubly damaging, as burning Amazonian plant life puts it right back into circulation, as well as reducing the number of trees left to absorb it in future.
It’s hardly a surprise to hear that rainforests are positively sloshing with life-giving water, and this one holds more than most: up to a fifth of the world’s fresh water, in fact, with the Amazon River alone winding for upwards of 4,000 miles through these vast, lush jungles. The mind-blowing quantities of h2O falling from the sky are just the beginning of the Amazon’s central role in the global water cycle, though – once again, it’s those trees that really do the bulk of the work. A single 98-foot tree can guarantee the evaporation of 79 gallons of water back into the atmosphere every day, having a dramatic effect on weather systems around the world and contributing hugely to the continued biodiversity of our planet.
Dust & Fertilisation
Slightly more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that dust also plays an equally central role in the general health and wellbeing of such an inherently moist habitat. Plentiful supplies of fresh dust and phosphorous in the topsoil are pretty much just as crucial for long-term fertilisation and sustained plant growth as water. Amazingly, the main supplier to the Amazon Rainforest is on another continent entirely: it’s the Sahara desert in Africa. Last year, NASA satellite imaging tracked a three-dimensional model of vast dust clouds making their trans-Atlantic journey, mapping an extraordinary natural export/import process from one of the planet’s most barren expanses to one of its most fertile.
As we know all too well, the horrifying rate of deforestation that the Amazon Rainforest has been subjected to for much of the 20th century has caused massive damage to the extent and health of the jungle, and continues to threaten its status as an impossibly valuable resource and habitat. The main threat, as noted in eco2greetings’ handy infographic, continues to come from cattle ranching – this industry alone was responsible for some 45% of total tree clearances between 2000-2005, at a staggering rate of 200,000 acres per day (an area roughly the size of Central Park). Large- and small-scale agriculture combined to worsen the problem by a further 40% in that time, with an estimated 15% of all Earth greenhouse gas emissions caused by aggressive deforestation.
|Happily, some progress has been made in recent years towards slowing the destruction. Huge efforts are being made to curb illegal deforestation, with government and local communities working together under new initiatives in the worst-affected areas where up until very recently, vast swathes of plant life were regularly been hacked and burned to make way for ranches, farms or plantations. Steps being taken towards a more sustainable future in places like Paragominas are now being touted as potential models for larger-scale conservation across the Amazon Basin, where it’s absolutely imperative that swift and decisive action is taken to protect and preserve these unique resources for all who rely on them.|
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