Effects of land-use change in the Amazon on precipitation are likely underestimated

Mara Baudena*, Obbe A. Tuinenburg, Pendula A. Ferdinand, Arie Staal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The Amazon forest enhances precipitation levels regionally as trees take up water from the soil and release it back into the atmosphere through transpiration. Therefore, land-use changes in the Amazon affect precipitation patterns but to what extent remains unclear. Recent studies used hydrological and atmospheric models to estimate the contribution of tree transpiration to precipitation but assumed that precipitation decreases proportionally to the transpired portion of atmospheric moisture. Here, we relaxed this assumption by, first, relating observed hourly precipitation levels to atmospheric column water vapor in a relatively flat study area encompassing a large part of the Amazon. We found that the effect of column water vapor on hourly precipitation was strongly nonlinear, showing a steep increase in precipitation above a column water vapor content of around 60 mm. Next, we used published atmospheric trajectories of moisture from tree transpiration across the whole Amazon to estimate the transpiration component in column water vapor in our study area. Finally, we estimated precipitation reductions for column water vapor levels without this transpired moisture, given the nonlinear relationship we found. Although loss of tree transpiration from the Amazon causes a 13% drop in column water vapor, we found that it could result in a 55%–70% decrease in precipitation annually. Consequences of this nonlinearity might be twofold: although the effects of deforestation may be underestimated, it also implies that forest restoration may be more effective for precipitation enhancement than previously assumed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5580-5587
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Volume27
Issue number21
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MB acknowledges funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreements no. 641816 (CRESCENDO) and no. 820970 (TiPES). OAT acknowledges support from the research programme Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni (016.veni.171.019), funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). AS acknowledges support from the Talent Programme grant VI. Veni.202.170 by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Publisher Copyright:
Global Change Biology© 2021 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Copyright:
Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • column water vapor
  • deforestation
  • drought
  • moisture recycling
  • moisture tracking
  • rainfall
  • tropics

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