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Amazon: Ancient City, Future Dustbowl

Global warming could dry up the Amazon river and turn the tropical forest into a dustbowl in the next 50 years. This would be caused by a change in the rainfall patterns, brought on by changes in the Pacific ocean currents, which in turn are caused by increased freshwater released by melting glaciers. A newly discovered ancient city in the Amazon is awesome, but it's also giving officials an excuse not to try to save the rainforests, by saying they haven't been pristine for a long time.

Meteorologist Mat Collins says, "In our model, 50 years from now the Amazon dries up and dies. There would be a reinforcing effect because, as the rainforest dried up, the carbon that is presently locked in its vegetation would be released into the atmosphere," meaning it would cause even more global warming.

Charles Arthur writes in The Independent that a "super El Nino" will start this process off. "Usually El Nino occurs once every three to seven years; it's a natural way that the climate varies," says Collins. "But when you increase global warming then you get more of these events."

Kathleen Wren writes that archeologists are discovering traces of ancient roads, bridges, and plazas in the Amazon, meaning it wasn't "untouched" before the Europeans arrived. They think thousands of people once lived cities linked by a network of roads that altered the landscape extensively.

The residents dug enormous ditches around their villages, built bridges and moats in wetlands, and farmed large tracts of land. None of the land was left truly wild, or "pristine." Even the wooded areas were more like large parks than untouched forests. Archeologists were surprised to find the cities, because it's long been thought that the Amazon was too hostile for large-scale settlement of this type. They also thought the soil was too poor for agriculture.

"There was this cherished image that the Amazon was pure nature," says archeologist Michael Heckenberger. "The problem is, we have very few good, empirical cases that tell us what Amazonia was like in 1492, one way or the other." The first written record of an civilization in the Amazon is from 1884. The population dwindled and their cities disappeared due to slavery and the diseases brought to the region by European slavers. Researchers concluded that the only settlement in the area had always been limited to small, primitive tribes.

Instead, this Amazonian civilization was familiar with astronomy, and oriented roads and buildings according to the directions of the sun and stars. Their roads were the width of modern highways and all the settlements were efficiently links by a network of roads, indicating careful urban planning. The native people still use many of their bridges and canals.

"These people were involved in the same kinds of cultural human innovation as elsewhere in the world," Heckenberger says. "We're not talking about the Inca or Roman Empire here, but in terms of the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and elsewhere, Amazonians were no less capable of human cultural innovation than anyone else."

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