Rainforests: exploring the global weather maker

The belt of rainforests around the tropics may seem distant from most people’s day-to-day lives in the UK but these rich areas provide many essential services – such as providing key foodstuffs and helping to regulate the climate – that it has been all too easy to take for granted, until now.

A major new exhibit – which has opened this month – at Cornwall’s Eden Project aims to highlight the extensive links between climate and rainforests in a series of installations known as The Weather Maker. This forms part of the latest phase of the Eden Project’s Rainforest Canopy Walkway enabling people to explore the world’s largest indoor rainforest from the treetops.

A series of Weather Maker exhibits in the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome explore the links between tropical forests and the climate.

The Met Office’s Professor Richard Betts has been assisting the Eden Project with the exhibit in the rainforest biome. He said: “Rainforests are well named because they have a two-way relationship with the weather. These extensive blankets of forest actually help create rain, as warm moist air rises above the forests. The winds carry moisture from over the ocean, which falls out as rain and is then recycled back to the atmosphere through evaporation.

“As water evaporates from leaves this has a cooling effect and this effect is amplified as the moisture rises to form clouds above the forest which help to reflect sunlight.

“Beyond the forests themselves, rainforests have an influence on the global climate by stimulating the circulation of air around the globe and helping to absorb atmospheric carbon as the vegetation grows.

“2015 and 2016 were the warmest years in a record stretching back to 1850. At a time when we are reaching new global extremes, scientists are beginning to unravel the numerous bonds between rainforests and the climate.  One of the key allies in helping to ameliorate the changing climate is itself under stress as these once seemingly endless evergreen blankets are being eroded through deforestation. These actions are leading to more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, further fuelling the cycle of change. While deforestation is slowing in some areas, it is continuing in others.”

The complexities of the rainforest and climate cycle are being brought to life in the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome with the Weather Maker exhibit, which includes installations exploring how the world’s rainforests act as air movers, water sweaters, flood defenders, rain makers, sun reflectors and carbon catchers. The Eden Project team has worked with climate scientists, including Professor Richard Betts, from the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of Exeter, to gain access to the latest research exploring the links between rainforests and climate.

Speaking at the opening event, Dr Jo Elworthy, Director of Interpretation at the Eden Project, said: “Fifteen years after opening, our forest has grown sufficiently to take our visitors into the treetops.  From on high, visitors will be able to explore the forest’s hidden secrets and discover how the world’s hot, steamy rainforests help to regulate the climate.”

The experience of visiting a rainforest may seem a distant dream for many, but this doesn’t stop the need for people to understand the importance of these rich and humid landscapes.

Experts from the Met Office help Eden Project visitors understand more about the earth’s climate.

In addition to providing assistance with the Weather Maker exhibit, Met Office staff have also been helping visitors to understand the role of rainforests and climate through interactive exhibits and educational experiments.

Felicity Liggins of the Met Office said: “We visited the Eden Project on the Weather Maker’s opening weekend. It was fantastic to be involved with helping people appreciate the value of rainforests to the weather and climate, especially in such a stunning environment.  The team at the Eden Project have done a great job in making the biome feel as much like a rainforest as possible.”

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