If you're wondering what scientists are thinking about the state of the Amazon these days, look no further than Alex Cuadros' lengthy piece for the New York Times. Reporting from the Amazon, Cuadros meets with some of the leading scientists on the ground—or in the air—there to get their assessment. Atmospheric chemist Luciana Vanni Gatti's work takes her into the sky. She set out in 2010 to directly measure the carbon in the air rather than use tree-measurement estimates to extrapolate how much carbon is being stored in the Amazon's trees. With the help of a pilot, for more than a decade she has collected samples at various altitudes. And "for a while Gatti simply refused to believe her own data," writes Cuadros.
At lower altitudes, there should be less carbon thanks to trees sucking it up; instead, she found more, indicating the slashing and burning of trees was causing the rainforest to put more carbon into the air than it absorbed. Her resulting study made waves, as did that of Carlos Nobre, who suggested the Amazon could become an "impoverished scrubland" should deforestation put an end to the Amazon's "flying rivers"; those are rain clouds produced by the massive amounts of water vapor released by trees, and they recycle the moisture there multiple times. He tells Cuadros that he had thought that potential transition was a few decades off. After seeing Gatti's research, he's more convinced that "we are on the eve of this tipping point." (Read the full story for much more.)