AN INTREPID professor will venture to the upper reaches of the Amazon in a quest to find out how “mega dams” are changing the flow of the world’s largest river basin.

University of Brighton Professor Phil Ashworth will lead an expedition to a remote Brazilian stretch of the river called the Solimões as part of a global research project.

It seeks to predict the environmental toll of hundreds of vast new hydropower mega dams being built in the Amazon river basin and how they will shape the river for the next 200 years.

Mega dams have emerged as a major threat to the Amazon following a burst of construction in recent years.

The Argus:

Prof Ashworth, who specialises in the dynamics of the world’s largest rivers, will be in charge of three survey vessels that will map the river bed, measure sediment, and investigate the river’s flow.

He said: “The future of the Amazon river basin is at a critical juncture. Climate change and deforestation have driven increased soil erosion, larger floods and more frequent droughts over the past 30 years.

“Now, widespread hydropower dam construction in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador threaten the basin’s future.

“This ambitious project will be the first to model the impact of environmental change on a continental-scale river basin.

“It comes with frightening demands on big data sets, computational power and efficiency and presents an incredible opportunity to undertake ship surveys in the largest river basin in the world.

“Our team of 18 leading global scientists will combine to deliver a step-change in our understanding of the multiple stressors impacting on the Amazon river basin.”

With more than 300 dams planned or already being built, scientists fear there will be major ecological disturbances, abandonment of the extensive wetlands that make up the river’s floodplain, the collapse of riverbanks and depletion of vital nutrients that the fragile ecosystem depends on.

Models have so far been unable to predict the dams’ impact due to the Amazon’s sheer size and complexity.

A Natural Environment Research Council grant of £646,366 will allow the team to undertake the research and the three-year project will begin on September 1.