EAST LANSING, Mich. A Michigan State University researcher is helping lead the first research expedition along the western-most leg of the Transamazon Highway a 700-mile dirt road that begins at the point where civilization essentially ends in the Brazilian Amazon.
This summer's trip is part of Bob Walker's ongoing research, funded by the National Science Foundation, into the impact of tree loss, or deforestation, on the Amazon. Walker, an MSU professor of geography, and colleagues will document logging activity as it impacts the forest and interview workers in the logging industry and longtime residents about the effects of development.
The western Transamazon is unexplored territory. The great unknown. As the Brazilian government cracks down on logging operations in the east to protect the environment, loggers are moving west along this wild stretch of road, Walker said.
While Brazil has become a major global exporter of wood, beef, soybeans and the ethanol used in biofuels, critics say this comes at the expense of the environment. Walker said massive development along the western Transamazon could eventually push the Amazon to its tipping point when the rainforest ceases to exist.
"This may be the battleground of that tipping point, and it's critically important to study it in the early stages of change," Walker said.
But the trip comes with the threat of danger. Loggers are known to kill one another over territory. There are bandits. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Vampire bats with rabies. Massive snakes. Tainted water. Rickety bridges that can collapse under the weight of the researchers' vehicle.
Walker, who made his first research trip to the Amazon 20 years ago, estimates he's spent a good two years of his life crisscrossing the world's largest rainforest to study the effects of agriculture, logging and development. But even after all his time in the Amazon, he admits he doesn't know what the
|Contact: Andy Henion|
Michigan State University