Deforestation can change weather patterns in Amazonia

António Sumila, T. C., Pires, G. F., Fontes, V. C., & Costa, M. H. (2017). Sources of Water Vapor to Economically Relevant Regions in Amazonia and the Effect of Deforestation. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 18(6), 1643–1655. http://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-16-0133.1

The Problem

Deforestation eliminates the valuable wildlife habitat. But did you know removing trees also has an economic cost to humans? We use a lot of the planet’s services, and one of these services is the water cycle. The water cycle filters the water we drink, hydrates our crops, and provides bodies of water for us to explore! Trees and other plants play an important role in transporting and storing water and contribute greatly to this water cycle.

The Amazon rain forest is known for two things: rain and trees. Those two things are linked. You cannot have one without the other. This is because of transpiration. Transpiration is the process in which water vapor exits a plant. According to the the United States Geological Survey, liquid water is absorbed through the roots of plants, and exits at the leaves of the plant as vapor. Water vapor in the atmosphere creates clouds and rain. Rain falls to the ground, and the process starts all over again.

The Research

Recent research by scientists in Brazil shows that the rain forest is an important source of water for the area, and without it several regions in Brazil will experience a decrease in seasonal rainfall. This affects important economic sectors such as hydroelectric generation and soybean production.

According to scientists, the region of Mato Grosso in Brazil produces 9% of the global supply of soybeans. This region is especially in danger of experiencing a decrease in rainfall at important times in the soybean growing season. Decreasing soybean crops along with increasing global population can put further strain on this staple we rely on to feed our livestock and ourselves.

The Future

The difference of hydroelectric power generation and soybean production under low deforestation (F20) and high deforestation (F40 and F60) scenarios. (Image Credit: Sumlia et al. 2017).

Brazilian researchers investigated several different deforestation scenarios from little deforestation to large amounts of clear cutting. You can see in the graphs pictured that even under the most optimistic – the lowest deforestation – scenario, large changes in the amount of hydroelectric power and soybean yield occur.

Researchers hope that this study will help show how sensitive the water cycle can be to small changes in forest cover. The goal is to help local and global economies adapt to future changes.

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Geneva Gray

Geneva Gray is a graduate student at North Carolina State University in Atmospheric Sciences. She researches climate change and applied statistical methodologies. When she isn’t writing to meet a deadline, she’s knitting something cute for her infant daughter.

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