- Issue: Spring 2016
To get to the top of the 1,066-foot Amazon Tall Tower Observatory, or ATTO, you’d better be in shape. The only way up is a zigzagging, open-air staircase, with nothing but a harness for protection. That’s because ATTO isn’t built for casual visitors. Poking up from the Amazon jungle like a giant needle, it’s designed to capture vast amounts of atmospheric data—data that could unlock new insight into climate change.
Need some space?
ATTO sits roughly 100 miles northeast of Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in a remote swath of forest. The tower’s founders hope that distance will keep local human activities from affecting its measurements.
Beyond Climate Change
ATTO’s main purpose is to track carbon activity in the forest’s atmosphere, but scientists are already using it for a suite of other projects on everything from tree diversity to hydrology. The observatory’s founders also put it relatively close to Manaus so that students and postdoctoral researchers will be able to use it for research.
A Towering Question
Due to the complexities of deforestation, other human activities, and a number of ecological uncertainties, scientists can’t currently tell whether the Amazon is generally absorbing or emitting carbon. ATTO represents an attempt to answer that question. Built by two partnering institutions—Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research and Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry—the observatory will provide the first source of continuous, long-term data on the forest’s carbon processes.