Study predicts Amazon deforestation could affect climate in US

DURHAM, N.C. -- New mathematical simulations of climate behavior by Duke University researchers indicate that deforestation in the Amazon can cause a reduction of rainfall in the Midwestern United States and the Dakotas in the summer, when precipitation is most needed for agriculture.

"What this suggests is that if you mess up the planet at one point, the impact could have far-reaching effects," said Roni Avissar, chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. "You have to be careful not to look at only one area."

Avissar and research associate David Werth report their findings in the Oct. 27 issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres." The study was supported by grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

They conducted their research by using as a climate simulator a set of mathematical equations that describe the behavior of Earth's atmosphere. Each simulation uses a variety of data such as heat release, humidity, evaporation, precipitation, sea surface temperatures, soil moisture transfer and the like that would exist under different scenarios ranging from current conditions to a completely deforested Amazon basin.

It has been estimated that 15 percent of the Amazon rain forest already has been cut and turned into pasture, but the researchers looked at what might happen if the entire Amazon were converted to pasture land.

"Basically, what we see is a reduction of rainfall over the Amazon," Avissar said in an interview. "This reduction of precipitation occurs most of the year but is most significant -- on the order of 15 percent to 20 percent -- during the summer, from February to March. Of particular interest is that we see a correlation with climate changes, primarily reduced precipitation, in other parts of the world."

Avissar said the simulation showed a noticeable reduction of precipitation -- 10 percent to 15 percent -- during the

Contact: Al Rossiter Jr.
Duke University

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