TUM São Paulo meets TUM Learning Festival: How carbon dioxide affects the rainforest

The more carbon dioxide we release into the air, the greater the strain on the earth's green lungs. Particularly challenged here are the tropical rainforests. Researchers at TUM have been taking a closer look at the rainforest in Brazil for eight years in order to learn more about possible changes due to the influence of CO2. The participants of the webinar TUM São Paulo meets TUM Learning Festival on June 9, 2021 got the chance to see what scientific work looks like in practice.

Screenshot of the parties involved in the Zoom call
Amazon rainforest and climate change: TUM São Paulo hosted the first TUM Global Dialogue Series Event 2021 together with the TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning. Photo: TUM São Paulo

The webinar was part of the TUM Global Dialogue Series and was organized jointly by the Liaison Office TUM São Paulo and the TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning. The event reached a global audience: In addition to participants from Brazil, nearly 60 interested parties from Germany, Peru, Chile, Spain, France, Australia, and Togo joined in. This shows that the topic is not only of local importance.

TUM activities in the Amazon

Thirty percent of the world's greenhouse gases are reabsorbed by our natural ecosystem, and tropical rainforests alone do half of the regeneration work. This is explained by Prof. David Lapola, researcher at the Center for Meteorological and Climatic Research in Agriculture at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Brazil. Together with Prof. Anja Rammig, he is involved in the AmazonFACE project. Climate scientist Anja Rammig holds the professorship of land-atmosphere interactions at TUM.

In the webinar, Prof. Lapola gave an overview of the current situation in the Amazon rainforest. He said that if climate change continues unchecked, there is a concrete danger that the rainforest will collapse. Already, weather extremes such as alternating droughts and floods are on the rise, and the temperature in the region has already warmed by one degree within the past century, he said. A progressive development, the researcher fears. 

The AmazonFACE Project

To secure the future of the tropical forest, the AmazonFACE project aims to analyzes the impact of CO2. FACE stands for Free-Air CO2 Enrichment – a technology that will be used in a forest area about 70 kilometers from the Brazilian city of Manaus. During the experiment, which is being launched for the first time in a tropical forest, the scientists are exposing plants to an elevated CO2 concentration under the protection of a chamber. In the process, they are studying changes in the trunk, branches and leaves using a three-dimensional laser scanning technique. A camera in the soil also provides images of the tropical root structures. "We can already see that the drier the soil, the deeper the fine root ends go," explains Prof. Rammig.

The observations within the AmazonFACE project should provide conclusions about the resilience of plants and ecosystems and support previous model calculations. Fundraising is still underway, but initial analyses and tests are already underway –involving an international research community with students from all over the world.

TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning

In all of its programs, the TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning combines the latest research findings from all areas of TUM with current practical issues. In this way, the institute is committed to preparing specialists and managers from all areas of society for the challenges of the 21st century, one important example being climate change.

The TUM Liaison Office in São Paulo is convinced that this was a successful start and that many more joint events on topics that are important in Latin America will follow.

More about the experiments of the AmazonFACE project can be seen in the film The Amazon FACE project: Exploring the impact of climate change on the rainforest.