"It's a new frontier," Walker said, "with indigenous peoples, gold miners and very few settlements. Our feeling is one of excitement, tinged with a sense of the unknown."
The trip also comes during the 40-year anniversary of the Transamazon, which was started in 1970 and terminated two years later. Officially known as BR-230, the highway was envisioned as a fully paved thoroughfare integrating the isolated Amazon with the rest of Brazil and other South American countries.
But today, while eastern parts of the highway are paved, the western portion remains a dirt roadbed that can be impassable during the December-May rainy season.
The researchers will travel in a standard four-wheel-drive truck from the city of Itaituba west to the small town of Labrea, where the Transamazon ends. The trip should take about two weeks. Traveling with Walker will be three Brazilians: Eugenio Arima, a former doctoral student of Walker's who is now an assistant professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Ritaumaria Pereira, an MSU doctoral candidate in geography; and a local driver.
The researchers will sleep on mosquito net-covered hammocks strung up in the mud huts of local settlers, in the truck, or wherever they can find shelter. They'll pack as much bottled water as possible and eat local fare, including rice and beans, fish and plenty of papaya and other fruit.
For Walker, who made his first trip to the Amazon 20 years ago, the research offers him a chance to help inform environmental policy in one of the world's most ecologically rich regions.
"This is an opportunity to study a place that just 40 years ago was absolutely pristine, and to try to understand how it could be sustained in the face of changes that are coming down the road," Walker said. "I would like to be part of that helping in that process of protecting a legacy for future generations."
|Contact: Andy Henion|
Michigan State University