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6/03/2009

Extreme weather stokes climate worries

Sand dunes had been advancing for decades, and two years ago, they finally swallowed the houses of 13 families in Ilha Grande, an island in the Parnaiba river delta in northeastern Brazil. "It is beautiful now, but beauty brings misery. The cause of this is natural, but it is man-made as well." Experts blame deforestation and population increases for the huge dunes that are advancing by about 25 metres a year, threatening to wipe the town of 8,500 people off the map. But they and residents also blame stronger winds and drier weather in recent years. "The wind has been getting stronger. It is the motor of this process."  Image: An aerial view of a flooded farm in the northeastern state of Maranhao. A bout of extreme weather, including floods in the north and drought in the south, has reignited the debate about how climate change is affecting Latin America's largest country, home to the world's biggest rain forest and one of the world's bread baskets.

A bout of extreme weather has reignited a debate about how climate change is affecting Latin America's largest country, home to most of the world's biggest rain forest and one of the world's bread baskets. Unusually heavy rains in the north and northeast have made hundreds of thousands of people homeless and killed about 45. 

Meanwhile, southern Brazil has been hit by a series of droughts, devastating farmers and cutting by a third the flow of water over the famed Iguacu waterfalls. "Brazil is feeling climate changes that are happening in the world, when there is a severe drought in a place that didn't have them, when it rains in places where it didn't used to." "We are seeing the warming and we are seeing conditions in many parts of the country that appear to be associated." Southern states have suffered droughts in seven of the past 11 years and the first hurricane recorded in Brazil hit the southern coast in 2004. The Amazon area had its worst drought in decades in 2005. 

Warming also plays a key role in models of a so-called "tipping point" in which drier weather and deforestation combine to turn much of the Amazon forest into a savanna and possibly cut the flow of rain to southern farming states. About half of the forest is "teetering on the edge" of not having enough water to survive the more intense dry seasons. The drying process, which raises the amount of destruction by fires, is on course to release about 20 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere over the next two decades, about twice the current annual total of global emissions.
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