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The Biogeochemistry of the Amazon Basin$
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Michael E. McClain, Reynaldo Victoria, and Jeffrey E. Richey

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195114317

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195114317.001.0001

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The Relevance of Biogeochemistry to Amazon Development and Conservation

The Relevance of Biogeochemistry to Amazon Development and Conservation

(p.3) 1 The Relevance of Biogeochemistry to Amazon Development and Conservation
Title Pages

Michael E. McClain

Oxford University Press

To read the press of recent years, one might imagine that the fate of the world rests in the hands of those who would develop the Amazon basin. Waves of incoming colonists are blamed for the bulk of the deforestation and development (Schomberg 1998), but Asian logging firms, multinational oil companies, and gold miners are also portrayed as destructive agents hacking down the forest, systematically undermining its biodiversity, and severely contaminating its myriad ecosystems (Althaus 1996, Ferreira 1996, James 1998). The effects of these varied threats are regularly broadcast in alarming tones. Rueters News Service warned in January 1998 that “Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, the world’s richest trove of biological diversity and source of much of the Earth’s oxygen, continues to be ravaged” (Craig 1998). And, in April 1999, a writer for the Associated Press communicated the “fear” of unspecified scientists that “damage to the rain forest... could throw the Earth’s climate out of balance” (Donn 1999). Clearly, the fate of the Amazon and the implications of its fate to the overall Earth system are topics of enormous scientific and popular interest. While there is little disagreement that the complete destruction of Amazon forests would be catastrophic, what about partial deforestation of the region? How much, and which parts, of the Amazon can be converted to sustainable human land uses without compromising the ecological integrity of the conserved areas? How might this development impact regional climate, adjoining coastal systems, and overall global processes? Answers to these volatile questions remain elusive and seemingly endless strands of controversy swirl about them. At the heart of the matter, yet largely beyond the public discussion, are biogeochemical cycles that support and regulate the functioning of the Amazonia’s biological systems. Moreover, it is the incomplete understanding of these cycles that promotes uncertainty and feeds the controversy. The purpose of this book is to present a coherent assessment of our current understanding of the biogeochemical functioning of the Amazon basin. Although it is surely presumptuous to assume that this presentation will shed sufficient light on the uncertainties to eliminate the current controversies, we hope that it will provide a basis for lifting the discussion to a higher level.

Keywords:   aerosols, biomass, carbohydrates, deep roots, extractive reserves, fauna, geomorphology, heavy metals, irrigation, land abandonment

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