Oxford University professor Yadvinder Malhi has been working at ACA’s Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Station as the director of the project, “Effects of Climate Change on a Tropical Ecosystem.” As a leader in his field, Malhi is researching the implications of climate change for the cloud forest outside of Cusco, Peru. What follows is our recent interview with Malhi:
ACA: What changes might we see on a global scale, due to global warming?
YM: There will likely be many effects. One of these is changes in the distribution of plant and animal species, which may or may not be able to adapt to the changes in climate. In addition, rainfall patterns may be altered; places that have never had droughts might see months without rain–affecting plant, animal and human populations living in those regions.
ACA: In what way can the Amazon help to limit the effects of global warming?
YM: The Amazon is critical because it limits the effects of climate change. Its forests absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into biomass. Without this, global warming would be greater and more intense. The influence of the Amazon on rain cycles is significant since it ensures that rainwater is retained and returned to the clouds to generate new rainfall. Without the Amazon, water would go directly to the rivers and from there to the ocean and we’d then all have less water available.
ACA: What does your research in the cloud forests of Cusco, Peru involve?
YM: We work closely with the San Antonio Abad University of Cusco (UNSAAC), Oxford University in England, Wake Forest University in the United States and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Over the course of four to six years, we are researching the carbon and water cycles in the Amazonian cloud forest, as well as the distribution of plant and animal species and how climate change can affect this distribution. This project is part of a larger one that is studying other types of Amazonian forests at sites in Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, and northern Peru. We are also using a system of satellite imagery to see the Amazon from space and observe variations in climate across different Amazonian areas.
ACA: What is the importance of ACA’s Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center?
YM: Of the two cloud forest research sites, Wayqecha is the best. There are other sites—in Ecuador and other areas of the tropical world, but neither Africa nor Asia has sites like this. That’s why the research we are conducting is not only important to Cusco and Peru, but to all of Latin America and the globe.
ACA: Why is Peru a natural laboratory?
YM: Peru is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change because of the Andes Mountains, the Amazon and cities like Lima, located in the desert, which need water from the mountains. Without that water source, they would disappear. The Andes are “hot spots” or focal points of global warming. That’s why Peru is a good place to learn about adaptation to climate change; it serves as a natural laboratory because of its sensitivity to global warming.
ACA: When will you finish this project?
YM: It will be another four years; I expect to finish by 2012 with the help of local Peruvian scholars. That’s why we’re training students from Cusco and other regions of Peru, those that are working towards Master’s and Doctoral degrees. We think it is important to train them as this work should be led by Peruvians themselves.
ACA: What is the role of UNSAAC and the Amazon Conservation Association?
YM: There is a strong collaboration between us; with UNSAAC (Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco) through students and professors and ACA, which offers a good deal of support through scholarships for Peruvian and foreign students as well as the entire infrastructure of the Wayqecha Research Center in the cloud forest of Cusco and the Los Amigos Research Station (CICRA) in the Amazon rainforest in Madre de Dios – two research centers in strategic areas that are dedicated to comprehensive research and conservation of the Amazon basin in southeastern Peru.
ACA: What can our readers do to help?
YM: We can protect the Amazon, but global action will be important. North America, Europe, China and India and even Latin American countries like Peru have to facilitate studies and research. Thankfully, politicians are already beginning to understand that the greatest danger to the world this century is climate change. I have a lot of hope that decisions and actions will be taken in the next few years. Some countries already encourage limiting carbon dioxide emissions—to be successful, we all need to work together.