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Project June 9, 2023

The Amazon's Tallest Tree

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For trees, growing high is a considerable challenge. They will have to sort out physics to provide nutrients to the higher parts as they get taller. Physiological studies assign an absolute limit on a tree height of about 393.7 feet, beyond which supplying water to leaf cells becomes impossible.

The tallest tropical tree recorded is a yellow meranti (Shorea faguetiana), measuring 330.7 feet and located in the Malaysian state of Sabah. But no trees of this kind were ever found in the Amazon—until 2019. Using lidar technology, Eric Gorgens, a Brazilian who who has a doctorate in forest resources, and his team performed a high-resolution airborne laser scanning survey in an area usually covered by clouds—making it barely impossible to see from satellites—and found a group of six trees taller than 262.4 feet.

The lonely Malaysian yellow meranti could have its counterpart in a distant tropical forest, thousands of miles away, for the first time. These fragile and voiceless giants have been witnesses and survivors of an era. And through scientific research, they could have many stories to tell.

However, studies show that such old witnesses of a changing world are highly endangered by climate change and the growing deforestation rates, putting at risk all the stories they haven’t told yet.

For this reason, in August 2022, a research group of foresters, dendrochronologists, geologists, botanists, and zoologists, led by Gorgens, will embark on a challenging journey to meet the tallest tree ever recorded in the Amazon, reaching an estimated height of 290.4 feet.

For 20 days, the team traveled through dangerous slow-navigation narrow rivers and penetrated the dense forest to interview this living giant before it is too late.

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