The River in the Sky - Supporting Earth’s Hydroclimate


Zoe Whittall

October 27, 2023

What would happen if the Amazon Rainforest were to be permanently altered or destroyed? What makes it so important, so essential, to our environment? If you’ve had questions such as these when you first saw our website, social media, or blogs, here are some answers for you.

The Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, spanning much of South America. It is home to incredibly rich biodiversity, as well as thousands of rivers and river towns. In fact, the Amazon Rainforest is vital to the stability of the Earth’s hydroclimate as a whole, and is also the largest terrestrial carbon sink.

Incredibly, the Amazon Rainforest is able to create its own rain. Sometimes referred to as the Sky River, this expanse of water is generated by the trees in the Amazon and collects in the atmosphere above. Trees act as “geysers”, propelling water into the air – when, during photosynthesis, pores in the leaves open, the leaves lose water. This water goes from the leaves up into the atmosphere, and collects there to form the ‘river in the sky.’

The sheer amount of water produced is what makes this process so essential. The water volume released from a large tree in the Amazon can reach up to 1000 liters per day. The daily release of water, within the entirety of the Amazon rainforest, reaches 20 trillion liters. All of this water creates a river in the sky which travels across the lateral stretch of South America, from the Andes Mountain range to the ocean. In order for raindrops to form, the water molecules need something to cling on to, whether it be a speck of dust or some other minute particle. The rainforest is essential to the formation of such ‘rain seeds’ because the trees create particles which are highly attractive to these water molecules and help create raindrops; in this manner, the rainforest creates its own rain.

So, why does this matter for us? Increasingly, the trees in the Amazon, and indeed the entire ecosystem, are under threat. With higher levels of drought, more frequent fires, further global warming caused by human activity, and more deforestation, the trees and vegetation in the Amazon are becoming steadily more vulnerable. The threat is so acute, in fact, that continued inaction along this trajectory could lead to a change in the makeup of the forest. If the increasingly dry levels continue, there could eventually be a die-off of parts of the rainforest, which would have devastating climatic effects across the globe. Since the Amazon Rainforest is such a crucial part of the ecosystem, if large parts of it were to die or be destroyed, the results would be felt across the expanse of South America, and indeed even globally, in both less rain and higher temperatures.

At Rainforest Partnership, our end goal is to reach zero deforestation by 2030. It is not enough to mitigate or slow deforestation in the Amazon; if we want to avoid far-reaching and devastating environmental shifts, we need to reach this goal and protect these standing forests which do so much for the planet. Help us meet our goal by donating and supporting our projects, initiatives, and partnerships as we strive to keep this ancient ecosystem alive.