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Tropical Deforestation, Rainfalls and Climate Change

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Changes in rainfall patterns due to human activities and climate dynamics can have severe impacts, especially on vulnerable populations facing drought conditions. Tropical forests are essential for maintaining the global water cycle and avoiding extreme weather events. However, deforestation for economic activities, residential needs, and business operations can alter rainfall patterns and associated phenomena.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Leeds used multi-temporal satellite observations, station-based intelligence, and reanalysis datasets to assess the impacts of forest loss on precipitation across the Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asia from 2003-2017. The study found that tropical deforestation led to significant decreases in rainfall at distances greater than 50 km, with the largest decreases occurring at 200 km. Moreover, future deforestation in the Congo could reduce local precipitation by 8-10% by 2100, highlighting the need for tropical forest conservation to support regional climate resilience.

Tropical deforestation and precipitation rate in Congo
Tropical deforestation and precipitation rate in Congo

Future tropical deforestation in the Congo will reduce local precipitation by 8-10% in 2100, providing a compelling argument for forest conservation to support regional climate resilience in light of climate change.

Tropical forests are critical for their productivity and sustainability, and a reduction in rainfall can compromise their services in the long run. The study underscores the importance of preserving tropical forests for their mutual benefits, as feedbacks between forests and rainfall are essential for the stability of tropical forests. Tropical deforestation also further exacerbates climate change and heats the climate on a local to global scale by altering the surface energy balance and increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Small-scale deforestation in the southern Amazon could lead to increased precipitation, while large-scale deforestation reduces precipitation recycling and exacerbates El Niño's influence. Annual rainfall is expected to decline by 8.1 ± 1.4% for large-scale Amazonian deforestation by 2050, according to global and regional climate models.

Preserving tropical forests has practical policy and resource conservation-related implications, especially for nearby communities. The study provides a roadmap for tropical nations and stakeholders to make informed decisions and policies that conserve tropical forests, ensuring a cooler and wetter local climate and a more sustainable future for the tropics.


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