Chapter 2: An idea that becomes a collective dream materializes

In Chapter 2 of our “ATTO through time” blog, it is time to hear from Antonio Manzi, the first coordinator of the ATTO project on the Brazilian side. He recounts the vision of Amazonian scientists to build a tall tower in the 1980s, and how it finally became a reality nearly 30 years later.

The very first tower in the Amazon

The first tower to measure forest-atmosphere interactions in the Amazon was installed in INPA back in the 1980s at the Adolpho Ducke Reserve just outside Manaus as part of a British and Brazilian collaboration. I started my master’s degree in Meteorology at the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) in 1983, the same year the Ducke tower was constructed. It was 45 meters high, approximately 10 meters above the average height of the canopy. One of the leading scientists behind the tower was Leonardo Sá, a physicist and micrometeorologist at INPE and who became my unofficial advisor.

There is not enough room here to celebrate all of Leonardo’s qualities, but I want to take a moment to value his tireless work to unravel the mysteries of the atmospheric turbulence of the boundary layer and to motivate and train young researchers who today operate throughout Brazil. It is no less important to emphasize that many of the young researchers trained by Leonardo are Amazonian, like him. That is why we will dedicate future blog posts to Leonardo and other scientists, who were the forefathers of the research we are performing today.

Under Leonardo’s guidance, I evaluated the aerodynamic aspects of the forest. Our analysis clearly showed that even at 45 meters tall, the data from the top were still highly influenced by the forest canopy. We needed observations from a greater height to be able to get into the boundary layer, where we wanted to test whether the scaling law underlying turbulent theory of the lower atmosphere. We speculated that we would need a tower much higher than the one at the Ducke Reserve, perhaps 100-150-meter tower to be able to take measurements of the inertial sublayer and test the theory, which states that wind speeds will decrease logarithmically from the free atmosphere to zero at the surface. But the genius Leonardo wondered whether – because of the great roughness generated by the diversity of tree heights, sizes and shapes in the forest canopy, such a classical inertial sublayer would even exist above the Amazon rainforest.

To validate Leonardo’s hypothesis became our dream, which expanded to the brilliant Brazilian Micrometeorological community. Our vision was to construct a very tall tower so we could put the hypothesis to the test. Over many years we tried to obtain the financial resources necessary for the construction of the tall tower. We came close many times, but without success.

Joining forces

When I was invited by Javier Tomasella to escort an entourage of German researchers during the visit of Dr. Mayer Krahmer of the BMBF to the LBA K34 tower in the Cuieiras Biological Reserve of INPA, the longest living tower in the tropics located 50 km north of Manaus, I couldn’t imagine that I was starting my participation in one of the most exciting research projects of my life.  I learned later that the German researchers of the MPIC had a similar dream to build a tall tower in the Amazon to measure greenhouse gases and atmospheric chemistry. They proposed just that to Dr. Krahmer and he signaled the possibility of funding research in the Amazon by the BMBF, the German Ministry of Science and Education.

This was in 2007, 25 years after the construction of the Ducke tower. We were excited to join forces with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz. They wanted to replicate the 300-m ZOTTO project, a tall tower in mid-Siberia, with a similar tower in the Amazon. This was our chance to turn our dream into a reality! Joining efforts with the prestige of the Max Planck Society and the financial resources of BMBF, the tall tower might finally be built.

In mid-2008, Meinrat Andreae and Jürgen Kesselmeier visited us at INPA to start planning in more detail. In this proposal, Germany would build a triangular tower of 300 meters, purchase the equipment for meteorological and chemical monitoring of the atmosphere, pay for its operation for 5 years, and ask Brazil to assume the costs of operation of the tower from the sixth year onwards, for a minimum period of 15 years. The proposal was well received by Brazilian researchers and scientific authorities. At the request of the MPI-C researchers, we obtained letters of support for the project from several Brazilian institutions. Both the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Amazon State Science Secretary signaled the possibility of participating in the financing of the project. Taking advantage of a major scientific conference held in Manaus in November 2008, we obtained further support for the project from other institutions, such as INPE/CPTEC, the University of Sao Paulo and the State University of Amazonas.

Turning two dreams into one shared reality

Me at INPE in Cachoeira Paulista, where I currently work.
Me at INPE in Cachoeira Paulista, where I currently work.

During this time there was also progress in the discussion between the Brazilian and German federal funding agencies, MCTI and BMBF. A Memorandum of Understanding was scheduled to be signed by the two ministers in March 2009 in São Paulo. Before that, however, we needed to provide a work plan. We scheduled a meeting at the MCTI headquarters in Brasília in January of 2009.

It was only at that meeting that we realized that while we shared the same dream of a tall research tower, our scientific visions differed quite a bit. The scientists from Mainz were Chemists, and therefore interested in the chemical exchange processes between forest and the atmosphere. We, on the other hand, were meteorologists and physicists and wanted to study the characteristics of the atmosphere above the forest, not to mention the ecological interactions occurring with the rainforest. Up until now, our future colleagues had not considered the instruments needed for this in their proposal. We discussed and debated how to move forward. Finally, after several hours of passionate discussions, we came to the conclusion to combine the two proposals into one.

The result was the joint Brazil-Germany project “An Amazonian Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) for observation and understanding of the role of the tropical Amazonian ecosystem under climate change conditions”. In the afternoon of the following day we presented it to the National Secretary of Science and Technology of MCTI, who agreed to support the financing of the Brazilian side. In March, Minister Sérgio Resende and Minister Anne Schavan signed the Memorandum of Understanding between MCTI and BMBF. The research project would receive a budget of about 8 million Euros, 50% for Brazil and 50% for Germany, with the construction of the tower and its operation in the German budget and about 3 million Euros in scientific equipment in the Brazilian budget.

The dream was becoming real – but we still needed to find the place to build the tower.

Representatives of the BMBF and the MCTI sign the Memorandum of Understanding for the funding of ATTO.
Representatives of the BMBF and the MCTI sign the Memorandum of Understanding for the funding of ATTO.