Meet Stefan: reactive gases above the rainforest

Stefan Wolff stands atop the ATTO tall tower in the warm glow of the evening sun. Behind him the Amazon rainforest strechtes to the horizon. You can see the Uatuma river glinting in the distance between the trees.
© Paulo Brando

Hello, my name is Stefan Wolff! I’m a meteorologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and I have been working on the ATTO project since 2010.

I heard about the Amazon rainforest for the first time in my childhood. From that moment on I was really enthusiastic about this abundant ecosystem and passionate to get to know it. Several years later, in 2005, I did an internship at the UFSCAR University in the state of São Paulo. Afterward, I had my first opportunity to get in direct touch with the Amazon. Five years later I got a great opportunity to join the newborn ATTO project. This has let me directly to work and live in the Amazon – fantastic!

As a meteorologist, I like to be outside watching how the clouds develop. It’s hard to imagine a better place for this than 40 or 285 meters above the green rainforest. Here you don’t just see the abundant biosphere. The atmosphere is also full of spectacular effects and surprises. Apart from these naked eye experiences, I focus on reactive trace gas measurements in my research. These reactive gases are ozone (O3), nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and water.

In 2015 I completed my PhD, which focused on the analyses of these profile measurements. The key parameters I looked at were emission, deposition and chemical reactions above and within the forest as well as turbulent mixing. Now working for the MPI-C at INPA, I hope to find out more about these complex interactions and connections among the atmosphere and the several parts of the rainforest. When I’m at ATTO, I can feel wind gusts blowing through the forest in the wake of strong storms. And then I can check out the newest datasets afterward and understand the effects of these processes in more detail.

I want to find out how much ozone the plants absorb, and how that is affecting the ozone gradients between the upper and lower canopy. How are the mixing ratios of NO-NO2-O3 and their chemical equilibrium changing from seasons to season? How strongly is the forest coupled with the overlying air masses? And how does the biomass burning due to deforestation affects air quality and possibly even plant health? I hope to be able to answer these questions with the long-term data that we gather!

Two years ago, we started our school and community project in the river communities close to ATTO. It all began with an “Open ATTO Information Day”, with which we wanted to connect the river communities and their inhabitants with the ATTO project in a meaningful way. Since we basically work in their backyards, we thought of possibilities of how to interact with them. We wanted to find common ground, to share ideas and to learn from each other. With regular school visits and seminars, we have initiated these common exchanges and subsequently built stronger and deeper relationships with the communities. Our next steps will be to establish water level measurements at each school together with their students and teachers to promote engagement with environmental sciences.

Looking back over the last 10 years I’m very happy and extremely grateful for all the fantastic experiences and the wonderful time within this great project in our ATTO family.