Location: At the mouth of the world's largest river that discharges the highest total sediment load, the Amazon River Delta (ARD) in South America includes vast estuarine wetlands.
Lead Researcher: Eduardo Brondizio
Challenges: Aside from the wetlands at the mouth of the Amazon River, the delta also sustains equally vast muddy wetlands >1500 km north along the coast, influencing the coastal economies of Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana and Venezuela. However, the conversion of mangrove forests to shrimp farms in the ARD and north along the coast are an emerging environmental challenge.
The ARD is often classified as ‘low risk’ because of its limited damming and water/oil extraction. However, deforestion proceeds at a rapid pace, and population, economy, and infrastructure in Amazonia are growing quickly. Furthermore, the projected construction of dams, ports and aqueducts as part of the ongoing regional integration development policies is expected to impact water and sediment flow from large tributaries such as the Madeira and Xingu rivers to the ARD. The Amazonian basin is also currently under a massive plan for infrastructure transformation including continental cross-national highways, river and sea-ports, and a sequence of dams combining transportation river-ways and hydro-electrical plants.
Approaching a solution: The DELTAS project will deliver a science-based ARD-customized integrative modeling framework which will be implemented, in collaboration with regional experts, to assess delta vulnerability to current and future conditions and guide sustainable management and policy. At the heart of ARD sustainability will be to develop a grounded understanding of how land-use patterns and landscape dynamics will impact the Amazon delta-estuary in the context of various scenarios of sea level rise and the increase of urban centers, mangrove clearing, and fish-farming in the region. The region is also predicted under climate scenarios to experience decreasing rainfall in the Eastern Amazon, and it is unknown how this will impact seasonal flooding dynamics in the ARD during the next 50 years. Another emerging issue is whether perturbations of sediment supply from dams and climate change will affect the dynamics of Amazon-derived mud banks that play an important role in the geomorphic stability, economy and ecology of the region. These are critical unaddressed issues that will be addressed through the multi-dimensional framework of the DELTAS project and through development of the scenario modeling and vulnerability indices.