Around the Region

Water diversion from Brazil’s São Francisco River begins

This month, a mammoth system of concrete canals, tunnels and aqueducts began diverting water from Brazil’s São Francisco River to the country’s drought-stricken northeast after President Michel Temer flipped a switch to open its floodgates. Brazil’s largest infrastructure project, begun in 2007, will divert 1% of the water from the São Francisco—at 1,700 miles (2,700 kms), the longest river wholly within Brazil—to new and existing reservoirs and to smaller rivers and drought-parched riverbeds in the interior of four recipient states. It has required a decade of construction at a cost of R$9.6 billion (US$3.1 billion), producing a two-pronged network of canals, tunnels and aqueducts that will extend a total of 477 kilometers (296 miles). In March, the system’s...

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Sleuthing human impact on Amazon using tree species

New research challenges the notion of a pristine pre-Columbian Amazon, suggesting humans shaped the tropical wilderness for thousands of years by encouraging the growth of particular tree species they relied on for food and shelter. The study, published March 3 in Science, the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, finds that 85 tree species were domesticated by people living in the region prior to 1492. These domesticated species occupy large expanses of modern-day Amazon forests and in tree surveys are found to be five times more likely to be hyperdominant, or extremely common, among the 227 most common species than non-domesticated ones. Twenty of the species are hyperdominant, among them cocoa, rubber and Brazil nut trees and...

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Exploratory drilling in Argentina targets land earmarked for park

An Argentine province’s decision to approve a mineral-exploration permit is stirring intense debate on account of the project’s location—a ranch that an environmental organization bought in 2015 as a first step toward adding it to a national park. Particularly controversial is the fact that the former ranch is home to Cave of the Hands, an area of prehistoric cave art that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. The decision by the government of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz has strong legal grounding because Argentine law gives provinces the authority to grant companies access to the subsoil in their territory regardless of who owns the land’s surface. In this case, the owner of...

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