Amazon River Stricken by Drought, Falls to Record Low Levels

Oct 18, 2023

A triple threat of drying conditions — scarce rainfall, withering heat, and elevated water temperatures — have caused the worst drought in the Amazon rainforest and its rivers in recorded history. It threatens the wildlife of the region. It also imperils the human populations who depend on the rivers’ flow.

Grim images of pink river dolphin carcasses and abandoned boats lining the dry banks of the Amazon River have drawn attention to the blight in recent days. But the drought has been steadily surging for months. The Brazilian port of Manaus is situated at the juncture of the Rio Negro and Amazon Rivers. On Monday, the port logged a water depth of 13.59 meters (44.6 feet). That’s the lowest it’s been in 121 years, when officials first began measuring the port’s depth. Manaus’s water level was 17.6 meters (57.7 feet) deep at the same time last year.

Brazil’s Science Ministry predicts that the drought will last until December or longer. It blames the drought on many factors. The acute warming caused by the El Niño weather pattern is one. A second factor is the long-term ill effects of deforestation and climate change.

Relief groups have begun delivering drinking water and medicines to rural communities cut off by the drought. The river — once their highway for trade and transportation — has been reduced in places to an impassable, muddy rut.

Ruth Martins lives in Boca do Mamirauá. It's a tiny riverside village in the Amazon. “There’s just dirt now where the river used to be,” Martins told The New York Times. “We’ve never lived through a drought like this."

Photo from Reuters.

Reflect: How might a prolonged drought in a major ecosystem like the Amazon rainforest affect the global environment and wildlife?

What idea is highlighted throughout the story? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. The Amazon's abundant water resources and resilient wildlife.
b. The challenges faced by the Amazon due to a prolonged and severe drought.
c. The effects of the El Niño weather pattern on the Amazon.
d. The aid provided by relief organizations to rural communities.
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