Scientists from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis recently published a paper in collaboration with Eric Davidson of Woods Hole Research Center and several Brazilian scientists, revealing how human activity and land use have begun to affect water and energy cycles in the Amazon Basin.

The research team’s primary goal was to understand the connections between climate change, agricultural growth and logging in order to gauge resulting fire risks.

“We are starting to see clear signs of the impacts of human activity on the forest ecosystems and rivers of southern and eastern flanks of the Amazon Basin,” lead scientist Davidson said. “The changes are not yet big enough to be detectable in other large segments of the basin, but we understand much more now about how climate change, deforestation and fire interact throughout the Amazon.”

One such sign of human impact on the area is the increase of fire in recent years. Compared to previous fire patterns in the Amazon Basin, these more frequent fires may be traced to human activity in the area.

“These fires are extremely frequent, occurring every few years, compared with every couple centuries in the past,” Jennifer Balch, co-author of the study and researcher at NCEAS, said in a recent press release.

The Amazon River is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s freshwater discharge, and the Amazon forest holds approximately 100 billion metric tons of carbon. Thus, according to Davidson, future development may damage vital parts of the region if not done sustainably.

“Agricultural development, expansion of roads, building of dams, etc. must be done with the best scientific, engineering and socioeconomic analyses available, with sustainability as the hallmark guiding the development process,” Davidson said. “We know enough about how the forest and river function and how they contribute to ecosystem services that people need, so that we can evaluate the tradeoffs of various kinds of development and how humans will be impacted in the long term.”

During the course of the study, U.S. scientists were able to work with scientists worldwide and pass on vital knowledge to the researchers in Brazil in an effort to preserve the integrity of the Amazon Basin.

“Training a new generation of scientists in ecology, hydrology, remote sensing, meteorology, biogeochemistry, economics and other fields is probably the most lasting legacy of this project, as these young Brazilian scientists now work their way into academia, government, NGOs and the private sector to influence the civil society [and] future management of the natural resources of the country,” Davidson said.