AmazonFACE is Brazil’s massive new investigation to understand just how much carbon dioxide their massive rainforest can handle, and what will be the point of no return.

AmazonFACE stands for Free Air CO2 Enrichment, and the project includes a large complex of towers spraying CO2 into the surrounding forest. The point is for scientists to be able to view, in a real biome, the effect of an atmosphere richer in carbon dioxide than we have today. They are especially interested in how far they can push it before the forest can no longer tolerate the added greenhouse gas. When that happens. They fear an event known as the Amazon forest dieback, in which parts or all of the immense rainforest would transform into a drier landscape, more like a savanna or prairie. If that happens, most of the biodiversity of the forest would be irrevocably lost.

“Plants absorb carbon dioxide along with water and light to produce sugars and release oxygen. What happens when one increases this input? We don’t know,” David Lapola, one of the leading scientists of AmazonFACE, told The Associated Press. “We have evidence from similar experiments in temperate forests, but there is no guarantee that the behavior will be the same here in the Amazon.”

Testing this in greenhouses has never been feasible, as it’s impossible for a greenhouse to replicate the cooperative ecology of such biodiversity.

The great experiment, which will involve dozens of 12-story aluminum towers and carbon monoxide supplied by three companies, is expected to be operational by early August. It’s run by the National Institute for Amazon Research, funded by the Brazilian and British governments.

Last year, a study was released which alleges that between deforestation and climate change, the Amazon has already ceased to function as a carbon sink, a loss which accelerates the extreme climate effects of rising temperatures.

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