October 7, 2005

Hurricanes Cause Peru Amazon Waters to Fall

LIMA, Peru -- Water levels along Peru's stretch of the Amazon river have fallen to 35-year lows following a series of recent hurricanes along U.S. and Mexican coasts and years of deforestation in the Amazon jungle, Peru's National Meteorological Service, SENAMHI, said.

According to studies at Peru's main Amazon jungle town, Iquitos, water volumes in October have fallen to 423,700 cubic feet a second from a normal average of 882,866 cubic feet a second, SENAMHI told daily newspaper Peru.21 on Friday.

Due to a public holiday in Peru on Friday, SENAMHI was not available for comment.

"Water levels in the Amazon river (in Peru) have reached a 35-year low in the past few days ... it's causing problems with river transport," said Juan Arboleda, a scientist at SENAMHI.

Iquitos is a major port on the Amazon and river travel is the main form of regional transport.

"Because of the hurricanes in the northern hemisphere, it hasn't rained in the jungle since August. The high rate of deforestation is also having an effect," said climate specialist Ena Jaimes at SENAMHI.

Many scientists believe hurricanes thousands of miles away affect weather in the Amazon because rising air in the north Atlantic, which fuels the storms, causes the air above the Amazon to descend, preventing cloud formation and rainfall.

But some meteorologists discount a link between hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and drought in the Amazon.

According to the Brazilian government's National Institute of Meteorology, dry weather in the Amazon is linked to warmer Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, which changes rainfall patterns.

Since August, several intense hurricanes have hit the Gulf of Mexico, including Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,200 people in the low-lying U.S. city of New Orleans and surrounding states. Flooding caused by torrential rains from Hurricane Stan has killed more than 240 people in southern Mexico and Central America.

Peru's Amazon jungle area has lost 25 million acres to deforestation due to farming and drug trafficking in recent years, according to private studies.

Deforestation contributes to droughts because cutting down trees reduces moisture in the air, increasing sunlight penetration onto land. It also prevents land and rivers from holding rain when it comes, causing excessive runoff and preventing the water table from increasing reserves.

Some 4,075 miles long, the Amazon, which has its source in southern Peru, threads across northern Brazil and discharges in the Atlantic Ocean.