Amazon = River – NOT = Fulfillment Center

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Amazing Mysteries

of THE Amazon

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Depending on who is looking, the mysterious jungles of the Amazon inspire many different urges. The wise fear and respect the incredibly diverse biosphere. The curious enter its jungles with a sense of wonder and harbor hopes of discovery, while the greedy view the green tangle of dense forest as something to be destroyed and converted into a different kind of green.

Sometimes called the lungs of the world, the Amazon basin lies mostly in the South American country of Brazil (although the rainforest spans multiple nations including Peru, Colombia and minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and the French territory of French Guiana). The Amazon basin itself is huge — almost 2.9 million square miles — or about 35% of South America. Even with the horrible exploitation of slash and burn farming practices, most of its unexplored rainforests are very difficult to penetrate. Under its deep and thick canopy lie many mysteries…

10. The explorer Francisco de Orellana

After Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incan Empire, his half brother Gonzalo Pizarro (who took part in the Incan destruction) arrived in Peru as the ruler of the city of Quito. The local people spoke of a great Kingdom East of the Andes called the Land of Cinnamon, or the famous golden city of El Dorado. In 1541 Pizarro choose one of his trusted underlings, Francisco de Orellana, to accompany him on his quest to find the Kingdoms. From the beginning, things did not go well with the exploration crusade. Thousands of expedition members died or simply disappeared into the wilderness. After crossing the towering mountain peaks of the Andes only a few dozen remained. Pizarro decided to return to Quito and ordered Orellana to try and find more kingdoms to conquer and to also follow the rivers to the Atlantic.

With about 50 men, Orellana built some riverboats and set off down the Amazon. Along the way he recorded encountering multiple riverside cities that they determined were ruled by an Inland Empire. When Orellana interrogated these people about the location of the cities of gold the locals didn’t know what he was talking about. Thinking they were lying, the European conquistadors resorted to torture, eventually turning most of the peoples they came into contact with against them. On June 24, 1542, they came across another group of riverside dwellers. Warned of Orellana’s hostile actions by natives farther upstream, they attacked the Orellana party. While fighting off the brave combatants, the conquistadors were stunned to be fighting women warriors. This would later remind Europeans of the famous Amazon fighters of Greek legend — thus giving the river its name.  On August 26, 1542, the men reached the Pacific, becoming the first Europeans to travel down the Amazon.

Returning to Spain, Orellana spoke of his travels and the great urban areas he encountered along the river. Yet years later when the Spanish were able to finally get back to the Amazon they found nothing but thick jungle. What happened to all the people he saw?

9. The Amazon jungle was once home to millions

When later expeditions tried to find the civilization that Orellana spoke about all they could find along the Amazon river was jungle. Orellana had died soon after his voyage and could not offer any insight or defense for what people now claimed was, at best, an exaggeration, and at worst a lie in hopes of scamming the Spanish crown out of money for a new expedition. For centuries this was the conventional wisdom of the academic world: that the Amazon jungle was sparsely populated with a smattering of now-famous  not-contacted native tribes.

New research is smashing these assumptions, aided by emerging technology like satellite imagery and LIDAR (a laser imaging system that can harmlessly see through forest canopies). Analyzing this data has revealed that during 1200 and 1500 A.D. a huge civilization of millions lived along the Amazon River system.

It is thought that this civilization was ruined by its success as a complex trading network, as newly introduced European diseases spread to every corner of the Empire. People became infected without ever seeing or coming into contact with a sick European. With most of its people dead and its society destroyed, the jungle grew over the abandoned urban settlements within a few years. When European explorers returned years later all they saw was a thick, impenetrable jungle.

8. Black soil

One of the biggest arguments against a large Amazon civilization was the basin’s famously poor soil quality — soil so bad that it could never have supported a civilization with such a large population. Even today, after the jungle is mowed down and its trees burned up, farmers can only grow a limited yield of crops before the soil becomes exhausted and they have to move on and continue the destructive slash and burn farming cycle.

This argument was finally overturned with the discovery of terra preta. Scientists would find patches of rich, dark soil that they termed terra preta. Crops grown in this soil grew exponentially more than crops grown in normal Amazon soil. At first, it was thought to be naturally occurring but then researchers were able to determine that the soil was made by craftsmen of the ancient Amazon civilization through a process scientists are only now beginning to understand.

7. Boiling river

Deep in the Peruvian jungle lies a mysterious boiling river. For decades it was thought to be a myth; it was only when Andrés Ruzo trekked deep into the forest to try and seek it out that it was confirmed to exist. Traveling up river after river, he finally found a river so hot that if anything falls in it is boiled alive. Its non-volcanic origins are a mystery. The river starts off cool and passes through a hot spring before eventually cooling off again. With no known local volcanic activity, researchers are unsure of the boiling river’s origins.

Some suspect that it was actually accidentally created by unscrupulous prospectors that comb the jungles looking for oil or mineral deposits with little care of the environmental consequences of their Wild Wild West drilling techniques. Similar drilling practices caused an ecological disaster in Indonesia: the Sidoarjo mudflow. There, an oil drilling rig unleashed a mud volcano that, for about a decade, has buried multiple villages in as much as 130 feet mud, forced 60,000 people from their homes, and still spurts out mud to this day.

6. Man-made structures are everywhere in the Amazon 

For decades, impoverished farmers have been plundering the incredibly diverse biosphere of the Amazon. The scale of deforestation is mind-boggling. As of 2019 scientists estimate that almost 20 percent of the original Amazon has been slashed and burned. While this ransacking of the rainforest’s unique ecosystem is unforgivable, there have been some startling discoveries among the burnt stumps and charred endangered species.

As the forest retreats from the fires, hundreds of fortified urban areas, as well as mounds of circles, squares, and other geometric shapes, have been revealed. Researchers estimate that hundreds and possibly thousands of more structures are still hidden by the existing jungles. This has been partially confirmed by limited LIDAR scans. These shapes hint at a complex lost civilization. To create such structures would have required astrologers, as they are aligned to the stars, and artisans with complex math knowledge as shown by structures that are difficult to create, like squares in circles. There would also have to be a society that was big enough to support these specialized roles. Only a fraction of the remaining jungle has been revealed by LIDAR scans. As more of the jungle is scanned, more of the lost civilization will be revealed.

5. Amazon nutrients come from Africa

Amazon soil is notoriously poor in nutrients, the most important of which is phosphorus. What phosphorus the Amazon does have slowly leaks away in the massive Amazon River complex. What is even more amazing is that the nutrients it does have do not come from local sources — not even from the landmass of South America. It is replenished through dust from across the ocean.

Hundreds of million tons of wind-borne, phosphorus-rich dust flows from Africa across the Atlantic ocean and drops onto the Amazon, providing valuable nutrients. Over half of the dust fertilizing the Amazon rainforest comes from the Bodélé depression in Northern Chad in the Sahara desert. Winds stir up the dust, where it rises into the upper atmosphere and is carried to South America and the prevailing winds.

4. Something is mysteriously making little silk towers

Deep in the Peruvian Amazon jungles, scientists like spider hunter Phil Torres were mystified by the incredibly intricate silk structures found throughout its trees. If they were human-sized they wouldn’t look out of place as a city plaza or art sculpture. Dubbed “Silkhenge,” these symmetrical “buildings” hearken back to the architecture of the ancients. The tiny silk constructions have two parts: a tall, central tower, and a circular fence that’s about 6 millimeters across.

After months of investigation, researchers were finally able to determine their purpose when a baby spider emerged from the tower. This shocked the researchers, as a spider species that lays just one or two spider eggs is incredibly rare. Even with all their research, spider experts are still unsure of which species make the Silkhenge complexes.

3. Man is causing droughts in the Amazon

One of the greatest fears of climate scientists is Earth’s carbon release feedback loops. One of the more famous examples is the Arctic permafrost. As climate change increases, the worldwide temperatures rise. Nowhere is this more dangerous than the Arctic. There, rising temperatures are melting the permafrost. This in turn is releasing methane and other greenhouse gases that the permafrost had kept trapped under its frozen mass. This released gas is further raising the temperature, melting more permafrost and releasing more greenhouse gases — a feedback loop.

The Amazon jungles are a great carbon sink. When it rains, the jungles grow, and tons after tons of carbon are locked away into Amazon’s vegetation. So much of the Amazon is being deforested that it is causing droughts — droughts so rare that they were thought to be once in hundred-year events. Now they are happening more frequently as fewer trees mean less rain. Episodes of drought in 2005, 2010 and 2015 are alarming scientists as during droughts carbon is actually released from the Amazon as tree growth is stunted and trees die from thirst. From 2005 and through 2008 the Amazon basin lost an average of 0.27 pentagrams of carbon (270 million metric tons) per year. This causes a feedback loop. More deforestation causes less rainfall and droughts. As the more droughts happen, more of the forest dies, causing more droughts — a climate change feedback loop.

2. There’s a plastic eating fungus in the Amazon

One of the greatest innovations of the modern age has been the invention of plastics. It has also been one of our greatest curses. Plastic litters the landscape, causing huge problems — problems so bad that cities and even countries have banned things like plastic bags. In the oceans, discarded plastic has created huge garbage patches that are bigger than Texas. Oceans are littered with so much plastic that it is being mistaken as food by fish and animals. Dead birds and even whales are washing up on shores with stomachs full of plastic debris. The problem with plastic is also its best feature: it is so durable. An answer to this problem might have been found in the Amazon.

Pestalotiopsis microspora is a fungus that may be our way out of our plastic waste crisis. Discovered in the Amazon, scientists have tweaked the fungi into Fungi Mutarium, which turns plastic into food. At present, the process is too slow to be an effective way to deal with the plastic crisis. Hopefully, in the future, a new industry based on this fungus will be created that will be able to deal with the mountains of plastic waste our world creates every… single… day.

1. Amazon forest is an overgrown garden

The lost Amazon civilization is slowly emerging from oblivion. Stories like that told by Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana are being looked at in a new light. Structures emerging from the ravaged jungles are showing us physical proof of its existence. Their advanced technology, as shown by the mysterious black soil, is now only beginning to be understood. However, one of the biggest vestiges left by their society has been hidden in plain sight.

Studies of the plant species of the Amazon have revealed startling results. While surveying the tree species of the Amazon, scientists discovered a large percentage (too high to be by chance) are domesticated flora like the Brazil nut, the Amazon tree grape, and the ice cream bean tree. The results show that the lost Amazon civilization was advanced in silviculture — or the science of identifying, domesticating, growing, and cultivating trees. Not just any trees, but trees that provide enough food to support millions of people.

The Amazon isn’t a random collection of trees, as would be expected if it was untouched wilderness. No, the Amazon jungles are really just a giant collection of overgrown, man-made orchards.


Amazon = River –

NOT = Fulfillment Center

Fragile China – A WIF Environmental Update

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fragile-china

10 Ways China Is Ruining

Its Own Environment

In recent years it’s come to light that, despite China’s best efforts to the contrary, they have a massive pollution problem. As China finds themselves trying to quickly and cheaply produce goods that meet the consumer demands of the majority of the world, they’ve also found themselves polluting the atmosphere on an unprecedented scale.

While the world is crying out for China to lower their emissions, many aren’t prepared for the lifestyle changes that would be required if the world’s major manufacturing hub decided to greatly lower its output. In the meantime, the Chinese people suffer the consequences, and as the pollution starts to spread around the globe we may all eventually feel the effects.

 

10. Poor Air Quality Is Creating A Tremendous Death Toll

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The air pollution problem often keeps many people indoors, and forces them to wear masks to keep out toxic fumes even on days where total avoidance of the outside isn’t advised. This problem is giving China a black eye on the national stage. Even after the Beijing Olympics, when the problem became more obvious, the true extent of pollution was swept under the rug. China has never offered journalists free reign to poke around, and has long denied any major problems caused by the air pollution.

However, a joint study involving the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning and the World Health Organization found that somewhere between 350,000 to 500,000 Chinese people are “prematurely” dying from lung cancer due to pollution. Unfortunately, there are people who try to hand wave these numbers away. China’s government has tried to keep journalists from even talking about the issue, and they’ve done their best to keep the numbers out of international reports whenever possible. While some would suggest that all the smoking in China is the main cause, the study makes it clear that the number of people dying from lung cancer have continued to rise even as the number of smokers has declined.

9. They Are Burning Petcoke As Fuel

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The United States likes to feel that they’re a much cleaner country than China, and that they’re doing more to deal with the crisis of pollution and renewable energy. However, the situation is more complicated than it seems. The United States and other countries are happy to buy products made using Chinese industry while claiming to take the high road themselves. The United States has put its foot down on certain fuels such as petroleum coke (petcoke). This fossil fuel is a byproduct of the oil refining process and is much, much dirtier than burning actual coal. While America don’t use the fuel, the US exports it to China so America can make some money off this byproduct instead of just letting the dangerous pollutant “go to waste.”

Every year, the amount of petcoke exported to China grows, because it’s an incredibly cheap fuel and China is dealing with the industrial demands of much of the modern world. While it’s cheap, it is hardly sustainable. With carbon emissions already out of control, using a fossil fuel that’s dirtier than coal is going to make an environmental crisis approach even faster. Of course, the rest of the world is partly to blame for selling the stuff in the first place. Sometimes it’s better to think ofprotecting the world from catastrophe than it is to squeeze every last possible cent of profit out of your waste.

8. Record Algae Growth

A boy man lies on a beach

While algae blooms aren’t necessarily dangerous to humans, they’re usually a bad sign for the local ecosystem. Large blooms of algae have been surfacing every year in the Yellow Sea near the Qingdao Province, and the problem seems to be worsening. These huge piles of algae sitting on top of the water create an enormous mess, and in 2013 the local government was tasked with trying to clean up a bloom that was larger than 11,000 square miles.

These algae blooms greatly affect the local marine life, which often simply can’t survive the conditions they’re forced to deal with. The algae tends to block the sun’s rays, and can also greatly change the chemical balance of the water. To make matters worse, the algae can start to cause problems to humans when it decomposes and sends toxic fumes into the atmosphere. When the Olympics were hosted in China, the government had to spend millions and enlist the aid of 10,000 people to clean the algae up enough to allow the games to continue. The damage from that year alone was estimated to cost local seafood farmers roughly 100 million dollars. Part of the problem may be seaweed farmers, who are scraping waste into the water that later turns into algae blooms when the conditions are right. Of course, many experts feel that if industrial pollution wasn’t so bad those conditions wouldn’t be there.

7. They’re Approaching A Water Crisis

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When you think of a country with a serious water crisis, China isn’t what comes to mind. But China is approaching a crisis, even though they would appear to have plenty of water to go around. To begin with, many industrial plants are located near water sources and dump their waste directly into the water, with very little recycling or treatment. Oftentimes sewage isn’t treated properly or at all, and ends up in the same sources of water intended for industry, drinking and bathing. If that wasn’t enough, since the 1960s, 10,000 bodies have been found in water sources.

Apart from pollution, China is also destroying some of their water sources. Due to industry using water without sustainable practices, many of China’s rivers are drying up. Many different ruined rivers and lakes will affect other water sources and make the crisis worse. On top of all that, China has an infrastructure problem when it comes to getting water where it needs to be. Most of China’s people and the agriculture that keeps them fed are located in the north, but the large majority of the country’s natural water is still located in the south. And even if you can get water, you may not want to drink it. Some experts believe that half the drinking water in major cities is unsafe to consume, and groundwater supplies are in a similar state of pollution.

6. They’re Starting To Experience Conditions Similar To A Nuclear Winter

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A nuclear winter is a theoretical scenario that would occur in the aftermath of multiple nuclear bomb detonations. Apart from the dangers of the radiation itself, the ash that accumulates in the air would block the sun’s rays for a period that may last years. This would cause the planet to cool, and would greatly impede photosynthesis. It would be almost impossible to grow crops.

Aside from the radiation, this may soon be a reality in parts of China. As the country’s smog problem worsens, and the government becomes less able to sweep it under the rug, more Chinese scientists are delving into the miasma, and it’s not good news. One scientist concluded that the smog in some areas is already bad enough that itcould be severely impeding photosynthesis. She believes that if the problem isn’t dealt with soon, it could spread to much of the country and put agriculture across China at serious risk.

5. Improperly Designed Garbage Incinerators Are Polluting The Atmosphere

A garbage collector looks for recyclable waste at a garbage dump site in Nanchang

China is struggling to contain the insane amounts of waste the country produces. Landfills are quickly overfilling, leaving them with nothing to do but simply destroy the garbage if they can. In many situations, this has led to a strategy of garbage incineration, with the fumes vented straight into the atmosphere. While this probably doesn’t sound like a great idea even in the best of situations, there are some incinerator plants in China that are having a serious environmental impact. Regulations aren’t well designed and there are a plethora of incinerator facilities that aren’t even close to standard, belching nasty smoke into the air with mercury and every other poison you could imagine. The horrible toxic fumes that spew forth have caused protests by everyone near them, and they’re an obvious threat to everyone’s health for miles.

4. It’s Become The Largest Dumping Ground For E-Waste

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E-waste is an increasingly vexing problem for the world. When old electronics are tossed out they often aren’t properly recycled because it’s too time consuming, unsafe or expensive. In many cases, a venue that recycles old cell phones and computers may just take all that junk and send it to another country to pick over as they please. This is technically illegal, but there’s little deterrent. Using both the guise of donations and straight up smuggling, China has becoming the leading importer of e-waste to the point that 70% of the world’s e-waste is ending up there.

One town called Guiyu has become a hot zone for the stuff, and many entrepreneurs have risen up around mining old electronic garbage for valuable metals and other useful scrap. Unfortunately, this is terrible for their health and the environment. The process often involves burning plastic or using hydrochloric acid, neither of which is good for the user or the atmosphere. To make matters worse, this pollution has also affected the town’s water supply and rice crops. While the local government is trying to stop the flood of e-waste into the town, they face resistance from some residents because it’s the only way they know how to make a living.

3. Pollutants Are Making The Food Supply Unsafe

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It stands to reason that if China’s air and water isn’t doing well, their soil probably isn’t faring much better. The problem with the soil may actually be more serious than any others. While many farmers are worried about the constant pollution levels they’re exposed to, most of the country is worried about the safety of their food supply — a supply they’re increasingly unable to trust.

The soil problem has been one of the most carefully guarded secrets in China. In fact, a few years ago the Chinese government conducted a study of the soil in order to assess environmental concerns. The results have never been released, which led to speculation that they’re worse than anyone could have imagined. To give you some idea, a group of Chinese officials found levels of cadmium beyond what’s recommended as safe in 155 samples of rice. One official commented that eight million acres of Chinese farmland was so poisoned with heavy metal contamination that it should no longer be used to grow crops. The worst part is that it’s almost impossible for Chinese consumers to know whether or not their food is contaminated.

2. Cancer Villages

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Since the late 1990s, international activists and groups in China have been working on the problem of cancer villages. A cancer village is a small town of 100 or so residents that’s extremely close to industrial plants. These plants are constantly producing some of the nastiest pollutants on earth. People from the villages describe it as a nightmare, with chemically tainted water that can’t be purified and clouds of toxic ash floating through the air.

The Chinese government doesn’t want to address or acknowledge the issue, but like the smog the problem has become bad enough that no amount of covering up can hide it. Unfortunately, these villages are unlikely to go away anytime soon. As it turns out, the richer citizens of China don’t like pollution when it affects them, so they’ve been pressuring the government to move industrial plants. The government obliges and moves them near poor villages that lacks the political influence to do anything about it.

1. It Affects The Entire World

The San Gabriel Mountains are seen in the background during cloud cover over the Los Angeles skyline

While it’s important for China to help its own country, the problem affects more than just China. The massive amount of pollution is starting to affect the rest of the world, and the results aren’t pretty. Scientists at Texas A&M University ran climate simulations both with and without China’s current air pollution and found troubling results. According to their simulations, cyclones in the Pacific Ocean are being strengthened by the pollution levels, and there’s an increase in ocean storms in general. If that wasn’t bad enough, tracing the pollutants led to the conclusion that some of it’s reaching the western United States, and much of the pollution levels in those states could be blamed on China.

Fragile China

– A WIF Environmental Update