Dr Jo Elworthy is Director of Interpretation at the Eden Project. Jo has worked at Eden since its inception and is dedicated to sharing the amazing workings of our planet Earth with Eden’s visitors: ‘Visiting the rainforest and experiencing weather and finding out about the relationship between rainforests and climate first hand can help transform our understanding of our world and how we interact with it.’ Here, Jo takes us on a journey to ‘The Weather Maker’ in the Rainforest Biome at the Eden Project.
The Eden Project in Cornwall has grown the largest rainforest in captivity inside a massive conservatory: the Rainforest Biome. Twelve years after planting, the trees have grown so much that the Eden team have been able to build a fully accessible canopy walkway to give visitors the chance to experience the forest from on high. There are many important stories to tell about the rainforest. Completed this spring was the latest section of the Walkway, the Weather Maker, which explores one of the most vital stories of our time: how rainforests help regulate the climate and how, by conserving them, they can help us in the fight against climate change. Rainforest conservation is a challenge that requires global cooperation, because despite the importance of these ecosystems an area the size of Eden’s Rainforest Biome is lost every ten seconds. Visiting the rainforest helps people to understand their beauty and importance and fuels their desire to care. That’s why Eden helps millions of visitors who might otherwise never get to visit a real rainforest experience one right here in the UK.
Welcome to the Weather Maker
As you wander deep into the 15,590 square metres of Eden’s massive Rainforest Biome, through the towering forests and verdant landscape of Southeast Asia, West Africa and tropical South America, you’ll start a gentle climb towards the canopy walkway. Mist spilling down from the pathway ahead gives hints of what is to come. A boardwalk takes you up into the canopy to the first exhibits in the Weather Maker experience: the Climate Platform and Weather Station. Here you’ll discover what’s in the air around you and how components of it either warm or cool the climate. You can also read live weather data and learn how computer climate modelling helps forecasts. Next the Biodiversity Platform gives views out across the Biome with its huge diversity of plants. This leads to a fully accessible high-level route and an alternative 23-metre wobbly rope bridge which shows some of the ways canopy scientists get around in the real rainforests. Both routes lead to a further range of Weather Maker exhibits. Rainforests make rain and rain makes rainforests. You can get a feel for what it’s like being in a tropical rain storm as you shelter from downpours in the Rain Shack and discover more about the water cycle. Close by, the Transpiration Tree shows how water is pulled up through plants by the power of the sun, evaporating from their leaves, helping to cool the Earth. One of the most popular exhibits is the Cloud Bridge; where you are fully enveloped in white mist and clouds before emerging to find out about albedo, a measure of the Earth’s reflectivity, and how the rainforest’s giant white clouds reflect sunlight, helping to cool the planet. Near a crashing waterfall you’ll cross the Carbon Platform which shows how, as rainforests grow, they capture carbon dioxide and store it as solid carbon compounds in wood, leaves, roots and soil. This helps to lower the concentration of this greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, so cooling the Earth. Back on the forest floor you’ll come across the Rainforest Research Camp, housing the latest research from scientists at the University of Exeter who are working in the tropics exploring links between climate change and rainforests. One project is investigating the impacts of lightning on tropical trees. Lightning strikes could increase in a warming climate, potentially killing the tallest trees in the tropics and affecting the entire ecosystem.
Here’s a summary of how rainforests help to regulate the Earth’s climate:
- Air movers: Rainforests enhance the rise of warm, moist air. This powers winds which circulate air around the world
- Sun reflectors: Massive white clouds form above rainforests which reflect sunlight
- Rain makers: Rainforests make rain and rain makes rainforests
- Water sweaters: Water evaporates (transpires) from leaves. This has a cooling effect (just like sweating)
- Carbon catchers: Forests take in CO2 from the air as they grow. It’s stored as solid carbon compounds in their wood.
- Flood defenders: Rainforest roots and soil hold on to water like a sponge
Conserving the rainforest
Alongside our on-site exhibits and entertainment, Eden works with a range of organisations such as Survival International and Cool Earth. We hope that by working with experts in their field we will be able to make some progress on helping with rainforest conservation projects. Eden’s newly appointed Director of Life Sciences, Professor Mike Maunder, is working with the team to instigate a range of new conservation projects here at Eden.
We’ll soon be revealing more about these projects and how our visitors can get involved at our Conserving the Rainforest display in the Rainforest Biome.