The Amazon's Tallest Tree Just Got 50% Taller – and Scientists Don't Know How

The Amazon's Tallest Tree Just Got 50% Taller – And Scientists Don't Know How
The Amazon’s new record-breaking tree. Tobias Jackson, Author provided

Sometimes even the largest natural wonders can remain hidden from human view for centuries. The Amazon is a dense place, full of life with new species of flora and fauna being discovered every other day. Now, using the same technology that takes driverless cars from A to B, we – led by Eric Gorgens and Diego Armando da Silva, and along with colleagues from Brazil, Swansea, Oxford and Cambridge – have discovered the tallest tree in the rainforest.

At 88m tall, it dwarfs the previous record holders by almost 30m. And it’s not alone either. The Guiana Shield of north-eastern Amazonia, which accounts for nearly 9% of the world’s remaining tropical forests, may contain lots of these gigantic trees. With each one able to hold as much carbon as an average hectare of rainforest, our discovery means that the vast jungle may be a greater carbon sink than previously thought.

We didn’t just stumble upon these trees while strolling in the forest. Between 2016 and 2018, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research coordinated a project to laser scan large swaths of the Amazon. This project scanned 850 randomly distributed patches of forest, each 12km long and 300m wide. Seven of these patches contained evidence of trees taller than 80m. Most of them were located in the area surrounding the Jari river, a northern tributary of the Amazon.

The Amazon's Tallest Tree Just Got 50% Taller – and Scientists Don't Know How
Map of the journey showing waterfalls and landmarks. Black symbols are waterfalls, blue symbols secondary rivers and red star the target sites.
Eric Gorgens, Author provided

Even we were surprised by the mammoth tree heights that the scans reported, so we set out on a journey to confirm the findings with our own eyes, determine their species and, of course, climb them.

The journey

We set off by boat from Laranjal do Jari in north-eastern Brazil, in humid 35℃ heat. The first stage of our journey took us to the village of São Francisco do Iratapuru, a community who produce sustainable brazil nuts. The community provided four boats and 12 people to guide us up the river and through the dense and unforgiving forest.

Without their expert assistance we wouldn’t have cleared the hurdles that followed – the first of which was the Itacará waterfall. It took us all of the second day to haul the heavy wooden boats and all of our gear around over land carpeted with thick vegetation to avoid it.

Beyond Itacará, the river ranged from 300m wide and serene to 30m with rocks and rapids. We were relieved to see that someone had packed plenty of spare propellers for the outboard motors – by the end of the trip we had used every single one. At one point our propeller hit a submerged rock and snapped, leaving us without power or steering just as we were trying to force our way upstream through a section of rapids.

We crossed the equator on the third day and covered 70km, before spending most of the next day waist deep in the river, hauling the boats up through eight kilometres of rapids and rocks with ropes and hands.

Having travelled 240km in total, we finally arrived at base camp on the sixth day. Many of the tall trees were pretty close to the river, so we could visit them quite easily from our camp – although cutting through the dense undergrowth was such tough work that we didn’t have time to visit all of the target sites revealed by the laser data.

We spent the next few days collecting samples and taking measurements of the trees. The highlight was our climber, Fabiano, shooting straight up the trees to measure their height the old-fashioned way – by dangling a rope from the top.

We found at least 15 giant trees, all of which were over 70m tall and some easily topping 80 m. Surprisingly in this diverse tropical forest, all these trees were of the same species – Angelim vermelho (Dinizia excelsa). This species is common in the Amazon, often used for timber because of its strong, albeit smelly wood. Previously, hoever, it was thought to grow to only 60m.

We don’t yet know how these trees managed to grow so much higher. As pioneer species – the first to grow into any new areas or gaps in vegetation – it’s possible that they took advantage of some past disturbance that cleared part of the forest, perhaps caused by a storm or by human habitation. The fact that they have survived so long and grown so tall must be at least in part thanks to their sheer remoteness from urban areas and industry.

Carbon colossus

The laser scanning technology that has enabled this and other recent mammoth tree discoveries isn’t just a plaything for tree lovers. It allows scientists to map forest structure and carbon storage in amazing detail and at unprecedented scales, and so better assess their importance in the global carbon cycle. A number of projects are also collecting repeat data, which will allow us to monitor the changing health in vital forests like these.

In this case, our research suggests that the north-east of the Amazon could store far more carbon than previously thought. Each Angelim vermelho can store as many as 40 tonnes of carbon – that’s between 300 and 500 smaller trees, while occupying the space of only 20. And although we only visited 15 trees, this was a small proportion of the trees the laser scanning data revealed, which was itself covered only a tiny proportion of the Guiana Shield. So, there are likely to be many more giant trees out there – and some may be even taller than our record-breaker.

In the current political climate, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the Amazon, but there is also still room for wonder. The fact that discoveries like these are still being made – even while parts of the forest are being destroyed by logging, burning and agricultural expansion – demonstrates how much there is still to learn about this amazing and mysterious ecosystem.

Sadly, it is likely that many unknown species in the Amazon will become extinct before we even discover them. We must do all we can to protect this majestic rainforest and the treasures – both known and undiscovered – it holds within.The Conversation

About the Authors

Tobias Jackson, Postdoc researching forest ecology and conservation, University of Cambridge and Sami Rifai, Research Associate in Ecosystems Modelling and Climate Data, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Adaptation Finance and Investment in California

by Jesse M. Keenan
0367026074This book serves as a guide for local governments and private enterprises as they navigate the unchartered waters of investing in climate change adaptation and resilience. This book serves not only as a resource guide for identifying potential funding sources but also as a roadmap for asset management and public finance processes. It highlights practical synergies between funding mechanisms, as well as the conflicts that may arise between varying interests and strategies. While the main focus of this work is on the State of California, this book offers broader insights for how states, local governments and private enterprises can take those critical first steps in investing in society’s collective adaptation to climate change. Available On Amazon

Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas: Linkages between Science, Policy and Practice

by Nadja Kabisch, Horst Korn, Jutta Stadler, Aletta Bonn
This open access book brings together research findings and experiences from science, policy and practice to highlight and debate the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation in urban areas. Emphasis is given to the potential of nature-based approaches to create multiple-benefits for society.

The expert contributions present recommendations for creating synergies between ongoing policy processes, scientific programmes and practical implementation of climate change and nature conservation measures in global urban areas. Available On Amazon

A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation: Discourses, Policies and Practices

by Silja Klepp, Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez
9781138056299This edited volume brings together critical research on climate change adaptation discourses, policies, and practices from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Drawing on examples from countries including Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Russia, Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, the chapters describe how adaptation measures are interpreted, transformed, and implemented at grassroots level and how these measures are changing or interfering with power relations, legal pluralismm and local (ecological) knowledge. As a whole, the book challenges established perspectives of climate change adaptation by taking into account issues of cultural diversity, environmental justicem and human rights, as well as feminist or intersectional approaches. This innovative approach allows for analyses of the new configurations of knowledge and power that are evolving in the name of climate change adaptation. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you,, and at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.



follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration


The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…


3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.