Air in the (actual) Amazon shows how we’re messing with climate

Source: Crosscut.com, Sarah Hoffman, Ted Alvarez, April 10

The Amazon rainforest covers over 2 million square miles of the South American landmass. It absorbs so much carbon and produces so much oxygen that scientists call it “the lungs of the Earth.” Now, researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, have encountered a bank of air so pure it changes our understanding of how clean the atmosphere can be. A team of researchers flew a small plane outfitted with specialized instruments over this section of the Amazon, capturing particles of air virtually unchanged from before the age of humans.

And yet the Amazon is not empty of humans. Manaus, Brazil, a city of nearly 2 million people, lies in the heart of the rain forest. It generates its own plume of air — this one filled with the carbon and pollutants that show how modern civilization alters our atmosphere. The mission was to contrast human-affected and pristine air to create a new baseline for air quality before humans started affecting the atmosphere.

“The way [the] aircraft is moving is like time travel. You are outside the plume; you are before the industrial age. Then when it zigzags and goes into the plume, you get into polluted conditions. You are traveling back and forth through time,” said Earth systems scientist Dr. Manish Shrivastava.

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