The loss of forest cover in the Amazon is having a significant impact on the local climate in Brazil – and making forests more susceptible to burning, according to a new study.
The 2019 Amazon wildfire season has seen a frighteningly high spike in the number of wildfires in what many refer to as the lungs of the Earth. Now, a new study is providing insights into the impact of deforestation in the Amazon and how it can intensify climate change, particularly at the local level.
Using satellite data, Jess Baker and Dominick Spracklen from the University of Leeds found that deforestation caused the local climate to warm between 2001 and 2013 – and this warming intensified as the severity of deforestation increased.
For example, intact forests in the region with less than 5% canopy loss demonstrated climate stability over the ten years studied, showing only small increases in temperature. But areas that had tree cover reduced to below 70% warmed 0.44°C more than neighbouring intact forests during the same period.
The differences between intact and disturbed forests were most pronounced during the driest part of the year, when temperature increases of up to 1.5°C were observed in areas affected by severe deforestation – and increase that is additional to global temperature rises driven by climate change.
“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” said study co-author Jess Baker. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s own local climate.”
“A healthy intact Amazon forest helps regulate the local climate and can even act as a buffer to the warming effects of climate change, compared with disturbed forests.”
According to study co-author Dominick Spracklen, forests emit water into the atmosphere in a process called evapotranspiration, which cools the local climate. Deforestation, however, reduces evapotranspiration, and causes local temperatures to rise.
“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning,” said Spracklen.
Image credit: NOAA