Researchers have discovered the tallest known tree in the Amazon, towering at a height of 290 feet (88.5 metres) storing as much carbon as an entire hectare of rainforest somewhere else in the Amazon.
Professor Eric Gorgens, a researcher at the Federal University of the Jequitinhonha and Mucuri Valleys (UFVJM) Brazil and a team of colleagues from Brazil, Swansea, Oxford, and Cambridge discovered a group of giant trees using a laser scanner on an aircraft. The method is known as LIDAR and relies on remote sensing.
Gigantic trees spotted on a laser scan
The discovery is important because of the role trees play in climate change.
Plants take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it. The larger the tree the more carbon it can store.
According to the researchers, whose work was published in journal The Conversation, there could be many of these huge treens in the Guiana Shield of north-eastern Amazonia. "Our discovery means that the vast jungle may be a greater carbon sink than previously thought," the researchers said in the report.
In order to pinpoint where to search for gigantic trees, the researchers relied on data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research which had undergone a laser scan of large areas of the Amazon. Seven of the eight randomly scanned paths, which were 12km long and 300m wide had signs of trees that were taller than the previous 262 feet (80 meters) record. Most were in a northern area of the Amazon.
Free to grow without human intervention
"We found at least 15 giant trees, all of which were over 70m tall and some easily topping 80 m. Surprisingly in this diverse tropical forest, all these trees were of the same species – Angelim vermelho (Dinizia excelsa)," wrote the researchers who traveled 240km arriving at their base camp on the sixth day of hiking through the Amazon.
"We don’t yet know how these trees managed to grow so much higher. As pioneer species – the first to grow into any new areas or gaps in vegetation – it’s possible that they took advantage of some past disturbance that cleared part of the forest, perhaps caused by a storm or by human habitation. The fact that they have survived so long and grown so tall must be at least in part thanks to their sheer remoteness from urban areas and industry."