The National Science Foundation to fund two Woods Hole Research Center Amazonian projects

Falmouth, Mass. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund two new studies led by Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) scientists Michael Coe and Marcia Macedo to examine the environmental impacts of Amazonian soybean expansion and intensification and to identify strategies to reduce those impacts.

In the last ten years, soybeans have become a significant portion of the economy of the Brazilian Amazon and farmers have begun shifting from single cropping soybeans in the same rainy season to double cropping with corn or cotton which requires a larger application of nitrogen fertilizer. The ecological consequences of this practice are unknown. The research team will measure greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen leaching to streams on a 200,000 acre soybean farm in Mato Grosso Brazil to pinpoint where the nitrogen goes. They will combine this new information with satellite observations and computer models to predict the implications of future cropland expansion and intensification throughout the Amazon for stream health and global greenhouse gas concentrations.

The other new project supported by NSF through the international consortium of the Belmont Forum will examine how changes in global climate combined with local agricultural expansion will affect the fresh water supply in the Upper Xingu River Basin of Mato Grosso. Coe and his colleagues will study how impacts from land conversion and agricultural intensification interact to affect the region’s water cycle, water quality and stream habitats. They hope to identify the thresholds that could endanger agricultural production and traditional regional livelihoods. Because higher stream and river flows are a consequence of decreased forest cover, they will also examine effects on downstream water-related infrastructure.

Both projects will include collaborations with the Institute for Amazon Environmental Research (IPAM) and the University of São Paulo (USP,) the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), the University of Potsdam and the University of British Columbia. The results of these studies will aid in the design of more ecologically sound farming approaches to reduce environmental consequences on the global atmosphere and regional water quality.

WHRC is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration and economic development around the globe.