Drought and deforestation: Has land cover change influenced recent precipitation extremes in the Amazon?

Justin E. Bagley, Ankur R. Desai, Keith J. Harding, Peter K. Snyder, Jonathan A. Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Expansion of agricultural lands and inherent variability of climate can influence the water cycle in the Amazon basin, impacting numerous ecosystem services. However, these two influences do not work independently of each other. With two once-in-a-century-level droughts occurring in the Amazon in the past decade, it is vital to understand the feedbacks that contribute to altering the water cycle. The biogeophysical impacts of land cover change within the Amazon basin were examined under drought and pluvial conditions to investigate how land cover and drought jointly may have enhanced or diminished recent precipitation extremes by altering patterns and intensity. Using theWeather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model coupled to the Noah land surface model, a series of April-September simulations representing drought, normal, and pluvial years were completed to assess how land cover change impacts precipitation and how these impacts change under varied rainfall regimes. Evaporative sources of water vapor that precipitate across the region were developed with a quasi-isentropic back-trajectory algorithm to delineate the extent and variability that terrestrial evaporation contributes to regional precipitation.Adecrease in dry season latent heat flux and other impacts of deforestation on surface conditions were increased by drought conditions. Coupled with increases in dry season moisture recycling over the Amazon basin by ;7% during drought years, land cover change is capable of reducing precipitation and increasing the amplitude of droughts in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-361
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Deforestation
  • Hydrologic cycle
  • Interannual variability
  • South America
  • Vegetation-atmosphere interactions


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