Flying rivers: where poetry, nature and science meet

The Amazon is a world of surprising and beautiful phenomena that stir our imagination. Think of the flying rivers, vapors in colossal quantities that rise from the forest and come to the Midwest, Southeast and South of Brazil, bringing water for us to drink, irrigate our plantations and forests and generate energy.

The volume of water that comes through the air may well account for the equivalent to the flow of the Amazon River itself, estimated at 200,000 cubic metres per second: the most powerful discharge of any single river in the world.
The flying rivers involve the Atlantic Ocean, the forest, the Andes and, of course, the winds that blow over Brazil. Here is how it happens:

The Amazon Forest works as a water pump, which pulls humidity from the Atlantic Ocean, brought by the trade winds (masses of warm and humid air that move to areas of lower atmospheric pressure in the equatorial zones).
This moisture falls like rain in the forest. Part of this water stays in the treetops, and from there it evaporates, in a phenomenon called evapotranspiration. This steam is transported to the west, until it hits the Andes Mountains. From there, it heads south.

This phenomenon has been proved in a study by the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (Cena) between 2007 and 2012. Vapor samples were taken in an airplane and its origin was determined through isotope analysis.
The poetic term “flying rivers” was made popular by the Peruvian physicist and meteorologist José Marengo, who has lived in Brazil for decades and is a researcher at Cemaden (National Center for Monitoring and Alerts for Natural Disasters).

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