Extreme Temperature Diary- Thursday November 9th, 2023/Main Topic: Climate Change and El Niño Are Grilling the Amazon and South America

The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme, or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials). 😉

Main Topic: Climate Change and El Niño Are Grilling the Amazon and South America

Dear Diary. One other item that I keep harping on ever since starting this site in 2017 is the danger of the Amazon being destroyed. The “lungs of the Earth” are one tipping point factor that must not succumb to deforestation cancer from climate change and agriculture. This year the signs of that cancer metastasizing are everywhere since a record strong El Niño event is helping to push the Amazon and most of South America into drought enhanced by record heat. In my opinion, this is the most important region on Earth which must be preserved.

Currently we have a heat dome centered over the northern two thirds of South America that is highly anomalous and quite eye popping:

It’s not changing significantly any time soon, although Argentina will see some cold frontal relief from time to time:

El Niño, which is building off the South American coast, is aiding to prop up this heat dome via thermodynamic feedback mechanisms between land and ocean:

We are seeing a South American heatwave that has lasted for many months affecting climatology among several nations there. Here are a couple of examples:

Here are more heatwave notes from Maximiliano Herrera:

It’s no wonder that the end result of all of this heat has been drought within the Amazon area. Here are a couple of notes that I saw yesterday on that:

Here is that Guardian post mentions from the last tweet:

‘Everything is parched’: Amazon struggles with drought amid deforestation | Brazil | The Guardian

‘Everything is parched’: Amazon struggles with drought amid deforestation

By now, the rivers should be full. But large-scale cattle farming, the climate crisis and weather events like El Niño mean Brazil is near the point of no return

Brazil’s beef industry has a bigger carbon footprint than the whole of Japan. Photograph: Jonathan Watts/The Guardian

Jonathan Watts in Altamira @jonathanwatts Mon 6 Nov 2023 06.35 EST

Cows, dust and smoke. That was what greeted me on my return home to Altamira, after several weeks on the road. An unusually fierce dry season has taken a horrific toll on the Amazonian landscape, swathes of which are already denuded by cattle ranches. Together, they threaten the integrity of the world’s biggest tropical forest.

I will get to the science behind that horrifying statement shortly. But first, let me describe what is happening on the ground, in and around my home in Altamira, in Pará state, northern Brazil.

Everything is parched. The vegetation crunches underfoot. Compared with the rainy season, the forest has visibly shrunk back several metres from the roadside. The more resilient trees are holding on, but at the fringes, the weaker palms have started to shrivel up and turn brown.

Several areas in my neighbourhood are charred black from recent burning. Criminal land-grabbers are taking advantage of the tinder-dry conditions. Each morning when I wake, the air tastes of smoke. A pall blurs the horizon. Solar panels are unable to function as normal because the sunlight cannot pierce the haze.

Smoke in the air in Altamira, Brazil
Solar panels cannot function properly because sunlight cannot break through the smoke. Photograph: Jonathan Watts/The Guardian

And then there are the cows, poor creatures, that amble through sickly brown pastures looking for the last few leaves or patches of grass that haven’t been coated with dust. Innocent victims though they are, their presence has contributed to this bleak scene.

October, November and December are usually a period of transition. By now, the dry season would normally have peaked, and rivers and aquifers would start to replenish. But the rains refuse to come. And with every day that passes, the sense of foreboding grows stronger.

The Xingu River, where we take our dogs each morning, is 4 metres below its peak and the small tributary, where I usually canoe, has shrunk to an ankle-deep stream. In the house, the kitchen and bathroom taps run dry for a few hours every two or three days. Wasps that usually buzz around the fruit bowl now congregate near the pipes, seeking drops of water ahead of nectar. Toads seek refuge in our dogs’ water bowls.

To a lesser degree, all of these things happen every dry season, but this is no normal year, as I confirmed with a couple of Brazil’s top scientists. Marcelo Seluchi, the head of modelling and operations at the Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alert Centre, told me this is already one of the worst droughts in the history of the Amazon, an area the size of Europe.

Dry leaves in Altamira, Brazil
The landscape is parched and vegetation crunches underfoot. Photograph: Jonathan Watts/The Guardian

Many rivers in the region, including the mighty Rio Negro, he said, have fallen to levels not seen since measurements began more than a century ago. I saw that shocking sight myself a couple of weeks ago.

Temperatures in many areas have hit record highs and the drought is far from over. Seluchi said the latest forecasts suggest rains will not return to most parts of the Amazon until the end of this month.

At a recent crisis meeting organised by the National Water and Sanitation Agency and president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff, experts warned of threats to hydroelectric dams and river transport of essential commodities, such as food, fuel and medicine. Meteorologists explained that this year’s Amazon drought is anomalously severe due to the El Niño effect, Atlantic Ocean heating and the climate crisis.

This explanation is accurate but narrow, missing many of the main causes of this problem and the most workable solutions. The most important of those, proved by recent studies, is that a healthy forest does not only generate its own rainfall, but also acts as a powerful regional cooler. If you clear the vegetation, as many farmers continue to do – albeit at a much slower rate than they did under the rule of the rightwing former president Jair Bolsonaro – then the region will become hotter and drier due to local effects and global climate disruption.

This is where my bovine neighbours come into the picture. The beef industry is the biggest driver of Amazon deforestation. Nothing else comes close. Land-grabbers use cows as occupying armies to strengthen their claims on stolen and cleared forest. This has become one of the world’s most heinous climate crimes. A mind-boggling new report by the Climate Observatory notes that Brazil’s beef industry now has a bigger carbon footprint than Japan. Dwell on that for a moment. This country has 220 million cows, 43% of which are in the Amazon. Their global heating emissions – from their burps and farts, but mostly through their owners’ connections to forest clearance and fires – are now greater than all the cars, factories, air conditioners, electric gadgets and other forms of carbon consumption of 125 million Japanese people living in one of the most industrialised economies on Earth. When slaughtered, the cattle make billions of dollars for global food conglomerates. Through cows, these companies intensify the climate crisis and, thus, probably help to make El Niños more likely.

Dry land in Altamira, Brazil
The beef industry is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Photograph: Jonathan Watts/The Guardian

Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s most influential climatologists, confirmed to me that cattle farm deforestation is contributing – along with the primary causes of El Niño and Atlantic warming – to this year’s devastating dry season. The danger, he warned, is that such extreme climate events will, within two decades, push the Amazon to a critical point, after which the region will desiccate and be unable to maintain itself as a tropical rainforest. In the southern part of the south-eastern Amazon, he said, the forest is very close to that point of no return. The dry season there is four to five weeks longer than it was in 1979, tree mortality is rising and the forest emits more carbon than it absorbs.

On a more hopeful note, he says that deforestation slowed rapidly in most Amazonian countries this year. That alone will not be enough to prevent reaching that critical moment. Regional governments will also need help from wealthy nations – which are historically largely responsible for the climate crisis – to reduce fires and forest degradation, and to embark on large-scale reforestation programmes. At Cop28 in Dubai later this month, Nobre will help to launch one such project, named Arc of Restoration.

It feels long overdue. The Amazon cannot endure unless cows are replaced by trees, dust by plants, and smoke by rain.

Explore more on these topics:

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Here are more “ET’s” recorded from around the planet the last couple of days, their consequences, and some extreme temperature outlooks, as well as any extreme precipitation reports:

Here is some more new October 2023 climatology:

Here is More Climate and Weather News from Thursday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

Today’s News on Sustainable, Traditional Polluting Energy from Fossil Fuel, and the Green Revolution:

More from the Weather Department:

More on the Environment and Nature:

More on Other Science and the Beauty of Earth and this Universe:

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Guy Walton… “The Climate Guy”

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