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The Amazon Rainforest – Is it as old as we think?

February 8, 2010

Those in climate science are constantly telling us that “the science is settled”.  They tell us that we know everything we need to know to make a decision on future policy.

Yet if “bread and butter” scientific claims are constantly being challenged in the light of new evidence, what are the chances of climate science getting it 100% right, first time, right now?  Pretty slim I would say.

As an example of how scientific orthodoxy is always being challenged, I am going to focus on new evidence emerging from the Amazon basin.

The rainforest covers 5.5 million square kilometers, spanning 8 countries in the northern half of the South American continent. It was formed we are told around 50-30 million years ago, during the Eocene period.  During the Eocene, the globe was far warmer than today, and it was the decline in temperatures at the end of this period that began the formation of the Antarctic region we see today.

It is generally accepted that in the past few thousand years, the rainforest expanded and was almost uninhabited, apart from a few small hunter-gatherer tribes, until around 1200 AD when external tribes began to populate and exploit its edges.

Basically, it was a huge, dense, unmanaged, impenetrable landscape until we started hacking our way into in during the 2oth Century.  It is key to the planets ecological balance and has been for thousands of years.  All sounding familiar?

Well, apparently that is turning out to be a load of old rubbish.

Even back in 1970’s, as the rainforest was cleared, people were noticing that there were things in there that really should not have been, and as they have cut more down, they have found more.

Large foundations and cut-channels and evidence of road networks.  It has also been noted that there is a pattern to some of the forest they are now uncovering, basically that it has been managed.

The accepted science was until recently mainly from people such as Betty J. Meggars, director of the Latin American Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History in Washington and author of “Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise”. Meggars work in the 1960’s with soil samples concluded that the ground was so poor that is could not have supported intensive agriculture.

Recent deforestation and archaeological work has however, despite Betty Meggars, uncovered HUGE population systems in the forest.  In particular the 30,000km square area of Bolivia that appears to contain thousands of raised “islands” which appear to have been used to manage different crops and species to those kept in the more boggy low ground, including evidence of massive fisheries.

A ten year study in the Rio Xingu region found evidence of walled towns, and a massive road network, with some roads up to 45 metres across.

In 1990, Anna C. Roosevelt, an archaeologist from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, along with a team of specialists, re-excavated the Amazonian site of Marajó. Their findings revealed compelling evidence that the mound-ridden archeological wonder likely supported more than 100,000 inhabitants and covered thousands of square miles. Marajó’s presence, based on scientist’s studies, enriched the environment, rather than causing the typical detriment or stress of a large, densely populated area. The only traces left behind of the settlement, a series of raised lumps of earth, still contain the most lush and diverse forth growth in the region.

It appears through analysis of the soils in this area, that they do indeed lack the ability to support massive agrculture, UNLESS YOU IMPROVE THEM. Which is exactly what they are now finding evidence of.  The hitherto unknown people were intelligent enough to mix the soil with tons and tons of charcoal and ground animal bones, to create “Indian black earth”.  This would have been achieved through massive land management techniques we would struggle with today, involving the subtle smouldering of thousands of square km’s of ground to create the charcoal.  So they did not just burn the forests down, but deliberately used a low-emission option of smouldering trees and then breaking down the charcoal. Latest estimates are that up to 10% of the current rainforest contain soil artificially managed in this way – that is an area the size of France.

And now, in January 2010 it has been revealed that as many as 300 Geoglyphs have been found from aerial and satellite survey, and they believe there could be hundreds more.  Some of the foundations of these geometric structures are massive, more than a mile long, linked via obvious road networks.

And still the nonsense idea of the eternal forest persists in reporting this latest find still exists:

“These structures are deep, with grooves are as large as 12 meters wide and four deep, but it is believed that they were built when jungle abounded, which would make their construction all the more difficult.”

It should be clear to anyone by now, even the idiot who wrote the above quote:

The rainforest was not there when the Geoglyphs were built, and there was no rainforest where the people lived!

What was there, and its blindingly obvious, is cultivated land that supported millions of people.  There are roads, towns, buildings, massive farming area’s, and evidence of advanced techniques.  Millions of people cannot live, build and farm in a rainforest, so the conclusion is inescapable:

Much of the rainforest is new, as in less than 1000 years old, and a lot of what we are now chopping down was managed forest created by our ancestors. A significant proportion of the rest is reforestation over previously cultivated and developed land, rather than what we assumed it was – an untouched wilderness.

So it could not have been the “lungs of the planet”, simply because it’s extent has been far less than today in the past 1000 years due to human habitation.

And relating this to climate change, we can read a ton of stuff like this from scientists:

“In the Central Amazon, where we found the slowest growing trees, the rates of carbon uptake are roughly half what is predicted by current global carbon cycle models,” Trumbore said. “As a result, those models — which are used by scientists to understand how carbon flows through the Earth system — may be overestimating the forests’ capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

But these scientists have got it wrong.  They are looking at the oldest trees and drawing conclusions based on those alone.  The clear evidence is that the Amazon has regrown significantly since the 14th Century after the original indigenous population died out. It is only now we are starting to chop back into it and finding the evidence that we have been there before…we just did not know we had.

Whatever the discipline, the science is never, ever settled.

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From → Climate News

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