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  • Translator: TED Translators admin Reviewer: Leonardo Silva

  • What do you guys think?

  • For those who watched Sir Ken's memorable TED Talk,

  • I am a typical example of what he describes

  • as "the body as a form of transport for the head,"

  • a university professor.

  • You might think it was not fair

  • that I've been lined up to speak after these first two talks

  • to speak about science.

  • I can't move my body to the beat,

  • and after a scientist who became a philosopher,

  • I have to talk about hard science.

  • It could be a very dry subject.

  • Yet, I feel honored.

  • Never in my career,

  • and it's been a long career,

  • have I had the opportunity to start a talk

  • feeling so inspired, like this one.

  • Usually, talking about science

  • is like exercising in a dry place.

  • However, I've had the pleasure

  • of being invited to come here to talk about water.

  • The words "water" and "dry" do not match, right?

  • It is even better to talk about water in the Amazon,

  • which is the splendid cradle of life. Fresh life.

  • So this is what inspired me.

  • That's why I'm here, although I'm carrying

  • my head over here.

  • I am trying, or will try to convey this inspiration.

  • I hope this story will inspire you and that you'll spread the word.

  • We know that there is controversy.

  • The Amazon is the "lung of the world,"

  • because of its massive power to have vital gases exchanged

  • between the forest and the atmosphere.

  • We also hear about the storehouse of biodiversity.

  • While many believe it,

  • few know it.

  • If you go out there, in this marsh,

  • you'll be amazed at the --

  • You can barely see the animals.

  • The Indians say, "The forest has more eyes than leaves."

  • That is true, and I will try to show you something.

  • But today, I'm going to use a different approach,

  • one that is inspired by these two initiatives here,

  • a harmonic one and a philosophical one.

  • I'll try to use an approach that's slightly materialistic,

  • but it also attempts to convey that, in nature, there is

  • extraordinary philosophy and harmony.

  • There'll be no music in my presentation,

  • but I hope you'll all notice the music of the reality I'm going to show you.

  • I'm going to talk about physiologynot about lungs,

  • but other analogies with human physiology,

  • especially the heart.

  • We'll start

  • by thinking that water is like blood.

  • The circulation in our body distributes fresh blood,

  • which feeds, nurtures and supports us,

  • and brings the used blood back to be renewed.

  • In the Amazon, things happen similarly.

  • We'll start by talking about the power of all these processes.

  • This is an image

  • of rain in motion.

  • What you see there is the years passing in seconds.

  • Rains all over the world. What do you see?

  • The equatorial region, in general,

  • and the Amazon specifically,

  • is extremely important for the world's climate.

  • It's a powerful engine.

  • There is a frantic evaporation taking place here.

  • If we take a look at this other image,

  • which shows the water vapor flow,

  • you have dry air in black, moist air in gray,

  • and clouds in white.

  • What you see there is an extraordinary resurgence in the Amazon.

  • What phenomenon -- if it's not a desert,

  • what phenomenon makes water gush from the ground into the atmosphere

  • with such power that it can be seen from space?

  • What phenomenon is this?

  • It could be a geyser.

  • A geyser is underground water heated by magma,

  • exploding into the atmosphere

  • and transferring this water into the atmosphere.

  • There are no geysers in the Amazon, unless I am wrong.

  • I don't know of any.

  • But we have something that plays the same role,

  • with much more elegance though:

  • the trees, our good old friends

  • that, like geysers,

  • can transfer an enormous amount of water from the ground into the atmosphere.

  • There are 600 billion trees in the Amazon forest, 600 billion geysers.

  • That is done with an extraordinary sophistication.

  • They don't need the heat of magma.

  • They use sunlight to do this process.

  • So, in a typical sunny day in the Amazon,

  • a big tree manages to transfer 1,000 liters of water

  • through its transpiration --

  • 1,000 liters.

  • If we take all the Amazon,

  • which is a very large area,

  • and add it up to all that water that is released by transpiration,

  • which is the sweat of the forest,

  • we'll get to an incredible number:

  • 20 billion metric tons of water.

  • In one day.

  • Do you know how much that is?

  • The Amazon River, the largest river on Earth,

  • one fifth of all the fresh water

  • that leaves the continents of the whole world and ends up in the oceans,

  • dumps 17 billion metric tons of water a day in the Atlantic Ocean.

  • This river of vapor

  • that comes up from the forest and goes into the atmosphere

  • is greater than the Amazon River.

  • Just to give you an idea.

  • If we could take a gigantic kettle,

  • the kind you could plug into a power socket, an electric one,

  • and put those 20 billion metric tons of water in it,

  • how much power would you need to have this water evaporated?

  • Any idea? A really big kettle.

  • A gigantic kettle, right?

  • 50 thousand Itaipus.

  • Itaipu is still the largest hydroelectric plant in the world.

  • and Brazil is very proud of it

  • because it provides more than 30 percent of the power

  • that is consumed in Brazil.

  • And the Amazon is here, doing this for free.

  • It's a vivid and extremely powerful plant, providing environmental services.

  • Related to this subject,

  • we are going to talk about what I call the paradox of chance,

  • which is curious.

  • If you look at the world map --

  • it's easy to see this --

  • you'll see that there are forests in the equatorial zone,

  • and deserts are organized at 30 degrees north latitude,

  • 30 degrees south latitude, aligned.

  • Look over there, in the southern hemisphere, the Atacama;

  • Namibia and Kalahari in Africa; the Australian desert.

  • In the northern hemisphere, the Sahara, Sonoran, etc.

  • There is an exception, and it's curious:

  • It's the quadrangle that ranges from Cuiabá to Buenos Aires,

  • and from São Paulo to the Andes.

  • This quadrangle was supposed to be a desert.

  • It's on the line of deserts.

  • Why isn't it? That's why I call it the paradox of chance.

  • What do we have in South America that is different?

  • If we could use the analogy

  • of the blood circulating in our bodies,

  • like the water circulating in the landscape,

  • we see that rivers are veins,

  • they drain the landscape, they drain the tissue of nature.

  • Where are the arteries?

  • Any guess?

  • What takes --

  • How does water get to irrigate the tissues of nature

  • and bring everything back through rivers?

  • There is a new type of river,

  • which originates in the blue sea,

  • which flows through the green ocean --

  • it not only flows, but it is also pumped by the green ocean --

  • and then it falls on our land.

  • All our economy, that quadrangle,

  • 70 percent of South America's GDP comes from that area.

  • It depends on this river.

  • This river flows invisibly above us.

  • We are floating here on this floating hotel,

  • on one of the largest rivers on Earth, the Negro River.

  • It's a bit dry and rough, but we are floating here,

  • and there is this invisible river running above us.

  • This river has a pulse.

  • Here it is, pulsing.

  • That's why we also talk about the heart.

  • You can see the different seasons there.

  • There's the rainy season. In the Amazon, we used to have two seasons,

  • the humid season and the even more humid season.

  • Now we have a dry season.

  • You can see the river covering that region

  • which, otherwise, would be a desert. And it is not.

  • We, scientists -- You see that I'm struggling here

  • to move my head from one side to the other.

  • Scientists study how it works, why, etc.

  • and these studies are generating a series of discoveries,

  • which are absolutely fabulous,

  • to raise our awareness of the wealth,

  • the complexity, and the wonder that we have,

  • the symphony we have in this process.

  • One of them is: How is rain formed?

  • Above the Amazon, there is clean air,

  • as there is clean air above the ocean.

  • The blue sea has clean air above it and forms pretty few clouds;

  • there's almost no rain there.

  • The green ocean has the same clean air, but forms a lot of rain.

  • What is happening here that is different?

  • The forest emits smells,

  • and these smells are condensation nuclei,

  • which form drops in the atmosphere.

  • Then, clouds are formed and there is torrential rain.

  • The sprinkler of the Garden of Eden.

  • This relation between a living thing, which is the forest,

  • and a nonliving thing, which is the atmosphere,

  • is ingenious in the Amazon,

  • because the forest provides water and seeds,

  • and the atmosphere forms the rain and gives water back,

  • guaranteeing the forest's survival.

  • There are other factors as well.

  • We've talked a little about the heart,

  • and let's now talk about another function: the liver!

  • When humid air, high humidity and radiation are combined

  • with these organic compounds,

  • which I call exogenous vitamin C, generous vitamin C in the form of gas,

  • the plants release antioxidants

  • which react with pollutants.

  • You can rest assured

  • that you are breathing the purest air on Earth, here in the Amazon,

  • because the plants take care of this characteristic as well.

  • This benefits the very way plants work,

  • which is another ingenious cycle.

  • Speaking of fractals,

  • and their relation with the way we work,

  • we can establish other comparisons.

  • As in the upper airways of our lungs,

  • the air in the Amazon gets cleaned up from the excess of dust.

  • The dust in the air that we breathe is cleaned by our airways.

  • This keeps the excess of dust from affecting the rainfall.

  • When there are fires in the Amazon,

  • the smoke stops the rain, it stops raining,

  • the forest dries up and catches fire.

  • There is another fractal analogy.

  • Like in the veins and arteries,

  • the rain water is a feedback.

  • It returns to the atmosphere.

  • Like endocrinal glands and hormones,

  • there are those gases which I told you about before,

  • that are formed and released into the atmosphere, like hormones,

  • which help in the formation of rain.

  • Like the liver and the kidneys, as I've said, cleaning the air.

  • And, finally, like the heart:

  • pumping water from outside, from the sea,

  • into the forest.

  • We call it the biotic moisture pump,

  • a new theory that is explained in a very simple way.

  • If there is a desert in the continent

  • with a nearby sea,

  • evaporation's greater on the sea,

  • and it sucks the air above the desert.

  • The desert is trapped in this condition. It will always be dry.

  • If you have the opposite situation, a forest,

  • the evaporation, as we showed, is much greater, because of the trees,

  • and this relation is reversed.

  • The air above the sea is sucked into the continent

  • and humidity is imported.

  • This satellite image was taken one month ago