Amazon deforestation causes strong regional warming

Butt et al. | PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Vol. 120 | No. 45 November 7, 2023 | 2023 | Peer Reviewed | Meta-analysis |


Tropical deforestation impacts the climate through complex land–atmosphere interactions causing local and regional warming. However, whilst the impacts of deforestation on local temperature are well understood, the regional (nonlocal) response is poorly quantified. Here, we used remote-sensed observations of forest loss and dry season land–surface temperature during the period 2001 to 2020 to demonstrate that deforestation of the Amazon caused strong warming at distances up to 100 km away from the forest loss. We apply a machine learning approach to show nonlocal warming due to forest loss at 2–100 km length scales increases the warming due to deforestation by more than a factor 4, from 0.16 K to 0.71 K for each 10-percentage points of forest loss. We estimate that rapid future deforestation under a strong inequality scenario could cause dry season warming of 0.96 K across Mato Grosso state in southern Brazil over the period 2020 to 2050. Reducing deforestation could reduce future warming caused by forest loss to 0.4 K. Our results demonstrate the contribution of tropical deforestation to regional climate warming and the potential for reduced deforestation to deliver regional climate adaptation and resilience with important implications for sustainable management of the Amazon.