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Amazon deforestation has far-reaching impacts

Deforestation in the Amazon is heating up land surfaces as far as 100 kilometers away, according to a new study led by Dr. Edward Butt at the University of Leeds.

The research highlights the pivotal role tropical forests play in land surface cooling, an effect observed over significant distances.

Studying Amazon deforestation

While it has been previously recognized that clearing tropical forests leads to immediate climate warming in the vicinity, the researchers wanted to investigate the climate impact of Amazon deforestation in more distant regions. 

The study specifically gauged the climate effects in areas up to 100 kilometers from the deforestation sites.

Dr. Butt emphasized the urgent need to understand the impact of Amazon’s forest loss.

“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,” said Dr. Butt. “If deforestation is warming surrounding regions, this would have big implications for people living in those areas.”

How the research was conducted 

The experts integrated satellite data to track land surface temperature changes and Amazon forest loss from 2001 to 2020. 

With data from 3.7 million locations across the Amazon basin, the researchers compared warming that had occurred over regions with varying amounts of local and regional deforestation.

For clarity, the scientists categorized deforestation within two kilometers of a data point as “local.” Beyond this, land up to 100 kilometers away, was deemed “regional.”

What the researchers learned 

The data revealed that in zones with minimal local and regional deforestation, the average land temperature change from 2001 to 2021 was just 0.3°C. 

By contrast, areas subjected to both local and regional deforestation witnessed an average temperature surge of 4.4°C.

“The regional warming due to Amazon deforestation will have negative consequences for the 30 million people living within the Amazon basin, many of whom are already exposed to dangerous levels of heat,” wrote the study authors. 

Potential warming scenarios

The team also projected the potential warming of the Brazilian Amazon in the next 30 years based on two scenarios of future deforestation. 

In the first scenario, the Forest Code is ignored and protected areas not safeguarded. The second scenario anticipates some level of forest protection. 

The findings suggest that in Mato Grosso state, located in the southern Amazon where forest loss is rampant, reducing deforestation could mitigate future warming by over 0.5°C.

Amazon deforestation implications 

“It is well known that protecting tropical forests is crucial in the fight against global climate change. Our work shows that protecting forests will also have big benefits at a local, regional and national scale,” said Professor Dominick Spracklen from the University of Leeds.

“We show that reducing deforestation would reduce future warming across the southern Amazon. This would benefit people living across the region through reducing heat stress and reducing the negative impacts on agriculture.”   

Study co-author Dr. Celso von Randow is a researcher from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research.

“In Brazil, studies on the importance of conserving forests for carbon storage are common, but we still lack studies on their biophysical effects. This is important because the Amazon is warming rapidly due to climate change, and now exacerbated by deforestation,” said Dr. von Randow. 

“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. Recognizing such benefits will hopefully result in more widespread support for continued efforts to reduce deforestation and protect forests.” 

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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