ATTO celebrates anniversary of milestones

This year, we are celebrating the anniversaries of two milestones at ATTO. Our tall tower is celebrating its fifth birthday tomorrow. On 15 August 2015, it was officially inaugurated. However, measurements at the station already started in August 2010 on two smaller towers. Since then, the observatory has continued to grow. Now more than 200 scientists worldwide participate in this interdisciplinary project on climate research in the Amazon.

The ATTO tall tower extends above the rainforest canopy at sunset. It was inaugurated 5 years ago, marking one of two big miles that celebrate their anniversary this year.
© Sebastian Brill / MPI-C

Two milestones

Scientists at the Max Planck Institutes for Chemistry in Mainz and for Biogeochemistry in Jena were already dreaming of a research station in the Amazon at the end of the 1990s. Already back then they were aware of how important this rainforest is for global climate. But they lacked continuous long-term observations that are precise enough to link to global networks monitoring climate and atmosphere. Many years passed before the initial idea became reality, but in 2010 the time had come. In cooperation with the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) in Manaus, the researchers set up the first infrastructure. The team built an 80-meter high tower and a mast of the same height. They made it possible to carry out the first atmospheric measurements. They form the basis for continuous and long-term observation connecting the central Amazon forest to the atmosphere and global climate.

Since then, the German-Brazilian research station has grown continually. More than 200 scientists from universities and research institutions in various countries contribute: biologists, ecologists, meteorologists, chemists, and atmospheric physicists work on complex, climate-relevant issues in an interdisciplinary way. New instruments developed, adapted or optimized for the use under the harsh climatic conditions of the tropical rainforest. Some studies provide information about local processes influenced by the composition of plant species and geographical conditions, among other things. In addition, for the past five years, the tall tower has allowed researchers to collect atmospheric data that is influenced by an area of several 100 km2 of rainforest. In combination with the knowledge of local processes, this enables the scientists to investigate large-scale relationships between the rainforest and the changing climate.

First results

Over the first 5 to 10 years of this long-term project, the team already made a multitude of discoveries. For example, we learned that plants, mostly the larger trees, recycle 60% of the rainfall that falls over the Amazon back to the atmosphere via transpiration. But to re-form clouds, cloud condensation nuclei are needed. The pristine atmosphere around ATTO in the wet season contains very few aerosols, such as pollutants. Instead, organic gases emitted by the tree canopy to the upper atmosphere play an important role. Through chemical reactions, they form particles in the atmosphere that influence cloud properties and precipitation. Such gases include volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even though the Amazon makes up only 4 % of the land surface, 25 to 40% of global VOC emissions come from the Amazon region. However, their composition changes with an increase in drought stress.

The anniversary blog

To celebrate anniversaries of these milestones, we are creating an anniversary blog here on the ATTO website.  In 12 chapters, project members will report on the development of the research station from their point of view in the coming weeks. In the first chapter, which we published earlier, Prof. Meinrat Andreae, talks about the pipe dream with which it all began and how the team convinced the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and its Brazilian counterpart (Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovações, MCTI) to provide funding to build the tall tower. Further chapters include the adventurous expeditions into the Amazon to identify the future ATTO location, the struggle with the adverse climatic conditions, and finally the mammoth project to build a steel colossus far away from any civilization in the middle of the rainforest. We bring these reminiscences to life with many photos and videos and end with a glimpse into the future.

On Social Media, we will celebrate anniversaries of these milestones in the coming month with the hashtag #ATTOthroughtime.