New Study Evaluates Impact of Land Use Activity in the Amazon Basin

A new study recently published in the journal Nature reveals that human land use activity is changing the regional water and energy cycles--the interplay of air coming in from the Atlantic Ocean, water transpiration by the forest, and solar radiation--of parts of the Amazon basin. In addition, it shows that ongoing interactions between deforestation, fire, and climate change have the potential to alter carbon storage, rainfall patterns and river discharge on an even larger basin-wide scale.

The research was led by the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). Lead scientist Eric Davidson (WHRC) and 13 Brazilian and U.S. colleagues from universities, government and the NGOs, all of whom participated in the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in the Amazon (LBA), produced a framework by which the connections among climate change, agricultural expansion, logging, and fire risk can be evaluated. The framework considers changes in greenhouse-gas emissions, and energy and water cycles. Using it they found signs of transition to a disturbance-dominated regime in the southern and eastern portions of the Amazon basin. 

"One strong sign of a new disturbance regime is the high number of recent large-scale wildfires, which are a by-product of intentional fires in Brazil's 'arc of deforestation,'" said co-author Jennifer K. Balch. "Extremely frequent, occurring every few years, compared with every couple centuries in the past."
 
Humans have been part of the Amazon basin forest-river system for thousands of years, but the expansion and intensification of agriculture, logging and urban development, and their synergistic impacts are beginning to stress the natural integrity of the ecosystem. Since the Amazon River produces about 20 percent of the world's fresh water discharge and the Amazon forest holds about 100 billion tones of carbon (10 years' worth of global fossil fuel emissions), it is important that economic development in the region proceed along sustainable paths that do not degrade the ecosystem services provided to local, regional and global communities by the forests and rivers of the region.

"The studies in this review, document changes in river flow, sedimentation in rivers, and lengthening of the dry season in the southern and eastern flanks of the Amazon Basin," notes Davidson. "Whether similar changes are likely to occur in other parts of the basin will depend on the interplay of management decisions and the impacts of climate change during the next few years and decades."
 
The project showed that the Amazon forest is resilient to considerable climatic variation from year to year, but that this resilience can be exceeded by severe or prolonged drought. The evidence points to a system in biophysical transition, highlighting the need for improved understanding of the trade-offs among land cover, carbon stocks, water resources, habitat conservation, human health, and economic development in future scenarios of climate change and land-use change.
 
Efforts in Brazil to curb deforestation have led to a significant decline in the clearing of forests in the Amazon basin, from nearly 28,000 km2 per year in 2004 to less than 7,000 km2 in 2010, but at the same time, the incidence of fire has not decreased, indicating continued risks for forest degradation through climate-fire interactions.
 
With Brazil poised to become a major economic power, the study emphasizes that improvements in scientific and technological capacity, and human resources will be required to guide and manage future sustainable development in the region.

Download Center

  • Your Guide to Environmental Metrics that Drive Performance

    Translating sustainability into action starts with implementing the right metrics to assess your environmental risk and performance. Learn how to design metrics that improve your decision-making process and drive enterprise performance.

  • Unpacking ESG: 6 Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

    Environmental and Sustainability experts from Arcadis and Cority answer 6 of the most pressing questions EHS professionals have about getting started with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting.

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

  • Streamline Your Air Emissions Management

    See how consolidating all your emissions management functions into one centralized system can help you streamline your operations, more easily maintain compliance, and achieve greater time and cost savings.

  • A Crash Course in Creating the Right Environmental Scoring System

    Learn how to develop the right environmental scoring system so you can easily benchmark performance across all your facilities and gain a holistic view of your environmental programs.

  • Industry Safe