- A new study found that deforestation in the Amazon doesn’t just raise temperatures in the areas where the deforestation took place but rather throughout the entire region.
- Researchers analyzed satellite readings of surface temperatures at 3.7 million different data points across the Amazon where forest loss had occurred between 2001 and 2020.
- They found that localized deforestation had a strong impact on regional warming.
It’s been well-documented that local temperatures rise in an area after the forest has been cleared. There’s no canopy to block the sun from hitting the soil directly and no trees to absorb moisture to stave off extreme heat. But could deforestation have a more regional impact, too?
A new study found that deforestation in the Amazon doesn’t just raise temperatures in the areas where the deforestation took place but rather throughout the entire region. Clearing tropical forests has a warming effect on the land surface for at least 100 kilometers (62 miles), according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
“The world is getting warmer as a result of climate change. It is important that we understand how deforestation of the Amazon ecosystem is contributing to climate warming. If deforestation is warming surrounding regions, this would have big implications for people living in those areas,” said lead author Dr. Edward Butt, a research fellow at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds.
Dr. Butt and other researchers analyzed satellite readings of surface temperatures at 3.7 million different data points across the Amazon where forest loss had occurred between 2001 and 2020. They found that localized deforestation had a strong impact on regional warming.
For example, areas with little local or regional deforestation experienced a warming of only 0.3 °C while areas with local deforestation but little regional deforestation warmed by around 1.3°C. But areas that had both local and regional deforestation saw a much larger rise of 4.4 °C.
It’s useful to think of the warming from deforestation the same way we think about air pollution, Dr. Butt said. Pollution can spread beyond its source point and impact the quality of life for local communities and flora and fauna hundreds of kilometers away.
“If you chop the forest down, not only are you going to have an impact in your local area, but you potentially are going to be affecting downstream temperatures, and that’s going to have obvious implications on things like agriculture and people living in the region,” Dr. Butt told Mongabay.
The study didn’t look into why or how a regional warming effect takes place or if it applies to other tropical forests, such as the ones in Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa. That will be the next focus for future studies, Dr. Butt said.
As for the Amazon, reducing deforestation could cut future warming in the south by 0.56°C, according to the study.
“New efforts to control deforestation across the Brazilian Amazon have been successful and deforestation rates have declined over the last year, and now we see benefits of possibly reducing the warming affecting people living in this region,” said co-author Celso von Randow, a researcher at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil. “Recognizing such benefits will hopefully result in more widespread support for continued efforts to reduce deforestation and protect forests.”
Banner image: Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy of Jose Schreckinger/Imaggeo.
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Butt, E., Baker, J. C. A., Bezerra, F. G. S., Von Randow, C., Aguiar, A. P. D., & Spracklen, D. V. (2023). Amazon deforestation causes strong regional warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,120(45).https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2309123120
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