New NWO grant on space infrastructure for studying the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest, the planet's largest tropical forest, plays a critical role in carbon storage, water regulation, and biodiversity. Unfortunately, the Amazon is undergoing rapid transformations due to climate change and human activities. A collaborative effort led by Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development has secured funding from NWO for a groundbreaking project, called ACT-NOW, which will use state-of-the-art satellite data to study the way in which the Amazon is changing.

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

Recent studies show that the Amazon's ability to absorb carbon is in decline. “Some regions are now even releasing carbon into the atmosphere, rather than absorbing it,” says Dr. Gerbrand Koren, Assistant Professor at the Copernicus Institute and ACT-NOW project leader. ACT-NOW, which stands for ‘Amazon Carbon uptake Transitions - Novel space-based Observational frameWork’, aims to enhance understanding of photosynthesis and leaf dynamics in the Amazon, and use this knowledge to better understand the flow of carbon and water across the rainforest.

An innovative approach

“By harmonizing newly developed and upcoming satellite products, photosynthesis and leaf phenology signals can be isolated,” explains Dr. Stefan Dekker, Professor at the Copernicus Institute and project co-lead. “This allows us to analyze vegetation activity with high spatial and temporal resolution.” The researchers expect that assessing carbon and water flux data across the Amazon basin will offer new insights into daily variations across different seasons. "The new data enable us to comprehend the hysteresis in water-use efficiency, illustrating plant activity throughout the day and its changes during droughts,” Dekker elaborates.

Koren: "With these new data, we expect to contribute to a deeper understanding of vegetation dynamics in tropical ecosystems and the future of the Amazon forest." This information is vital, as uncertainties in plant behavior are an important factor when projecting the impact of climate change.

A collaborative effort

ACT-NOW is an international collaboration led by UU researchers Koren and Dekker. Collaborators include Dr. Folkert Boersma from the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and Prof. Dr. Maria Santos from the University of Zurich. Learn more on the NWO website.