Amazon rainforest recovering from its second 100-year drought in 5 years

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:32 PM GMT on December 03, 2010

Share this Blog
5
+

Life-giving rains have returned over the past two months to Earth's greatest rainforest--the mighty Amazon--after it experienced its second 100-year drought in five years this year. The record drought began in April, during the usual start to the region's dry season, when rainfall less than 75% of average fell over much of the southern Amazon (Figure 2.) The drought continued through September, and by October, when the rainy season finally arrived, the largest northern tributary of the Amazon River--the Rio Negro--had dropped to thirteen feet (four meters) below its usual dry season level. This was its lowest level since record keeping began in 1902. The low water mark is all the more remarkable since the Rio Negro caused devastating flooding in 2009, when it hit an all-time record high, 53 ft (16 m) higher than the 2010 record low. The 2010 drought is similar in intensity and scope to the region's previous 100-year drought, which hit the Amazon in 2005, according to Brazil's National Institute of Space Research. Severe fires burned throughout the Amazon in both 2005 and 2010, leading to declarations of states of emergencies.


Figure 1. Hundreds of fires (red squares) generate thick smoke over a 1000 mile-wide region of the southern Amazon rain forest in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 16, 2010. The Bolivian government declared a state of emergency in mid-August due to the out-of-control fires burning over much of the country. Image credit: NASA.

Causes of the great 2010 Amazon drought
During the 20th Century, drought was a frequent visitor to the Amazon, with significant droughts occurring an average of once every twelve years. These droughts typically occurred during El Niño years, when the unusually warm waters present along the Pacific coast of South America altered rainfall patterns. But 2010 was a La Niña year. The 100-year drought of 2005 occurred in an El Niño-neutral year. Subsequent analysis of the 2005 drought revealed that it was unlike previous El Niño-driven droughts, and instead was caused by record warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic (Phillips et al., 2009.) These warm ocean waters affected the southern 2/3 of the Amazon though reduced precipitation and higher than average temperatures. Very similar record Atlantic sea surface temperatures were observed in 2010, and likely were the dominant cause for the 2010 drought.


Figure 2. The great Amazon drought of 2010 began in April, when portions of the southern Amazon recorded precipitation amounts less than 75% of normal (brown colors). The drought spread northward and peaked during July and August, but drew to a close by November when the rainy season began. Image credit: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

The importance of the Amazon to Earth's climate
We often hear about how important Arctic sea ice is for keeping Earth's climate cool, but the Amazon may be even more important. Photosynthesis in the world's largest rainforest takes about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. However, in 2005, the drought reversed this process. The Amazon emitted 3 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, causing a net 5 billion ton increase in CO2 to the atmosphere--roughly equivalent to 16 - 22% of the total CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that year. According to Phillips et al., 2009, "The exceptional growth in atmospheric CO2 concentrations in 2005, the third greatest in the global record, may have been partially caused by the Amazon drought effects documented here." The Amazon stores CO2 in its soils and biomass equivalent to about fifteen years of human-caused emissions, so a massive die-back of the forest could greatly accelerate global warming. In late 2009, before the 2010 drought, the World Wildlife Federation released a report, Major Tipping Points in the Earth's Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector, which suggested that odds of extreme 2005-like droughts in the Amazon had increased from once every 40 - 100 years, to once every 20 years. The study projected that the extreme droughts would occur once every two years by 2025 - 2050. This year's drought gives me concern that this prediction may be correct. The occurrence of two extreme droughts in the past five years, when no El Niño conditions were present and record warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures occurred, are suggestive of a link between global warming and extreme Amazon drought. If the climate continues to warm as expected, the future health of Earth's greatest rainforest may be greatly threatened, and the Amazon may begin acting to increase the rate of global warming. According to Rosie Fisher, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado who specializes in interactions between climate and forests, "I'm genuinely quite alarmed by this. In some ways it kind of reminds me of when they figured out than the Greenland ice sheet was melting much faster than the climate models predicted it would."

Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon falls to lowest rate on record
There is some good news from the Amazon--deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon have fallen 14% in the past year, and are at their lowest rate on record, according to mongabay.com, an environmental science and conservation news site that focuses on tropical forests. In 2009, Brazil passed a law committing to a 36 - 39% reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases. Reducing deforestation by 80% by 2020 was the primary method envisioned to achieve the reduction. Brazil is now four years ahead of that schedule, and no longer is the world's biggest deforester--Indonesia now cuts down more acreage of forest each year than Brazil does.

For more information
Nick Sundt at the WWF Climate Blog has a remarkably detailed post on this year's Amazon drought, and Dr. Joe Romm at climateprogress.org has another excellent post.

Phillips, et al., 2009, Drought Sensitivity of the Amazon Rainforest, Science 6 March 2009: Vol. 323 no. 5919 pp. 1344-1347 DOI: 10.1126/science.1164033.

I'll have new post Monday or Tuesday.

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 296 - 246

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

Hi everyone! We got more rain this morning then I thought we would get. As far as Christmas of 1989 I remember that Christmas real well! ON the night of the 23rd my Dad and I went from Sarasota to Tampa, because we heard it was snowing in Tampa! We got back home and it ended up snowing more in Sarasota than in Tampa!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Mmm.. I thought La Nina contributed to a warmer winter for the SE USA yet some of the models are showing a historic cold snap.. I don't remember it being ever this cold so early, even last year.


It's winter, it's going to get cold at times, La Nina or not.

Last December:
Member Since: September 21, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3690
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Mmm.. I thought La Nina contributed to a warmer winter for the SE USA yet some of the models are showing a historic cold snap.. I don't remember it being ever this cold so early, even last year.
This years La Nina has been Uncharacteristic! Low tonight here in Mobile is 24!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Mmm.. I thought La Nina contributed to a warmer winter for the SE USA yet some of the models are showing a historic cold snap.. I don't remember it being ever this cold so early, even last year.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaFLUSA:
I saved the 12 month, long term temperature prediction by NOAA....see image below. I saved the image in August 2009. Back then they predicted the next 12 months to be above average for North America (no areas were predicted below normal). I thougth it was very strange that all 12 months could be predicted above normal so I saved the image. You guys out west must be laughing at this prediction now. How much money is spent for these inaccurate forecasts.......it's our money they are spending.


I'm guessing they assumed El Nino would last well into 2010-2011, without accounting properly for the Modoki phenomenon and the unusual NAO-AO-PNA phases.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
S. Ontario radar map, from The Weather Network:



Lake-effect snowsqualls streaming off Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Heavy snow continuing to occur at my location after starting almost 2.5 hours ago by now. Close to 5 cm (2 in) on the ground. The low pressure system drifting east over the Atlantic is expected to retrograde into Nova Scotia, complete with a back-door warm front! This reminds me of the storm that hit NS around 2-3 January 2010, bringing over 20 cm of snow in localized snowsqualls in Ontario. If these storms that are expect to hit the Maritimes in the next week can bring snowsqualls here after funelling in more from the Hudson Bay low, we could easily get more than a foot of snow. Check out the satellite loop for the January storm.

I see people are speaking in Spanish and Norwegian.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I have some ideas, but since this is a family blog I'll keep them to myself...
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
Quoting Tazmanian:
i got my new laptop YaY THANKS too the $ i won i won $546
Good afternoon Taz...How did you win $546.00 ?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Taz. What did you win at? and congrats.

Tampa - Yeah.. Long range forecasts have a "long" way to go to become accurate.
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
i got my new laptop YaY THANKS too the $ i won i won $546
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I saved the 12 month, long term temperature prediction by NOAA....see image below. I saved the image in August 2009. Back then they predicted the next 12 months to be above average for North America (no areas were predicted below normal). I thougth it was very strange that all 12 months could be predicted above normal so I saved the image. You guys out west must be laughing at this prediction now. How much money is spent for these inaccurate forecasts.......it's our money they are spending.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grecojdw:


Well the NOAA discussion for the our area (From Mobile over to Destin) has the possibility of Flurries overnight Tuesday Early Wednesday. I for one think the big storm possibility for mid December won't be bad for the Gulf Coast. Decades separate storms strong enough to get snow down to the Northern Gulf coast. Current model runs do not do this so I don't think it is the year for our area to receive that rare snow event. Let me eat crow...hopefully:)


Though down to the low 20s Monday night for my area and wind chill on top of that is really cold:o
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PensacolaDoug:



Any snow for the deep south/gulf coast with it?


Well the NOAA discussion for the our area (From Mobile over to Destin) has the possibility of Flurries overnight Tuesday Early Wednesday. I for one think the big storm possibility for mid December won't be bad for the Gulf Coast. Decades separate storms strong enough to get snow down to the Northern Gulf coast. Current model runs do not do this so I don't think it is the year for our area to receive that rare snow event. Let me eat crow...hopefully:)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Dakster:
I have a bad feeling you are in for some real cold weather in NYC grothar!


I keep checking the local weather there and they don't seem to be saying it will be that cold. I don't understand it. I shall be returning on the 13th; just in time for the cold blast here in Florida.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I have a bad feeling you are in for some real cold weather in NYC grothar!
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
Quoting hurristat:


yeah, but english is my first language, I learned spanish from classes, lol, not actually living in a spanish-speaking country


Not bad!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Dakster:


Brrr... Hope we don't get a repeat of that. (I wasn't born yet in '57-'58).


It was a cold one! I'll be leaving for New York on Thursday. I hope it isn't too told.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


He should have been here in 1958

Link


Brrr... Hope we don't get a repeat of that. (I wasn't born yet in '57-'58).
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
Quoting Levi32:


Of course not. And global warming theory would result in the southeastern U.S. staying cooler than normal, at least relative to everywhere else.
Very true, Levi. Loved your Tropical Tidbits, BTW! :-)

Very light sow here in Fargo, now. about 20F out. could be worse. Oh well, I'm a local and am used to the cold, it doesn't bother me. It's the ice and unshoveled sidewalks that drive me nuts!
Member Since: August 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 324
Quoting Grothar:


hurristat, you speak Spanish, too!


yeah, but english is my first language, I learned spanish from classes, lol, not actually living in a spanish-speaking country
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PensacolaDoug:



Any snow for the deep south/gulf coast with it?


Yesterday the GFS had another Carolina snowstorm but actually streched it down to southern G.A with cold rain in Florida. Around December 14.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting weatherbro:
The new weekly euro is calling for history cold snap over the eastern 2/3 next week! Plus this pattern will hold until at least the New Year!

Never thought we'd see a worse cold spell then what we saw in early January.



Any snow for the deep south/gulf coast with it?
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 670
Quoting dmdhdms:


I actually thought it was Danish, but then, both translate the same. Yep, confusing.


Languages are almost the same. The Norwegians, Danes and Swedes all converse with each other. The Danes just speak so oddly that it is sometimes difficult to understand them, but the written languages are quite similar.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Jeg burde skrive på norsk og burde forvirre den hele bloggen. LOL


I actually thought it was Danish, but then, both translate the same. Yep, confusing.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
No megusta mas frio.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting lhwhelk:

Vamos a ver.


Jeg burde skrive på norsk og burde forvirre den hele bloggen. LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Dakster:
Nea - I don't think caneswatch was born yet... (in 1989...)


He should have been here in 1958

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Complete Update





Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Es esto un blog español ahora?

Vamos a ver.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting weatherbro:
The new weekly euro is calling for history cold snap over the eastern 2/3 next week! Plus this pattern will hold until at least the New Year!

Never thought we'd see a worse cold spell then what we saw in early January.
Great minds and all that... was just thinking "Geez, I hope it doesn't get as bad as last January".... lol

It was ridiculous here... a new front every Monday and Thursday, it seemed like, and extra rainy for us - January is usually one of our drier months.... While I like the idea of cooler weather for Christmas and New Year's Junkanoo, I'm not so keen on an All-December cold snap...

L8r, ya'll. Gotta go get some stuff done while there's sunshine...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22736
Quoting hurristat:


Um, you got a few words.

It's more along the lines of:

"Yes, but we, the humans, did not cause it."

and

"I find it interesting to see that the denial of the truth happens in many languages."


hurristat, you speak Spanish, too!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting JRRP:

bien bien.. con frio aqui en Santo Domingo
desde que paso Tomas por Haiti no hemos sentido calor


He must have done something to weather in the Caribbean. LOL Hace frio en Florida, tambien. Llegará a ser más frío. I don't like the cold!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The new weekly euro is calling for history cold snap over the eastern 2/3 next week! Plus this pattern will hold until at least the New Year!

Never thought we'd see a worse cold spell then what we saw in early January.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
We did not lose power at my location. The Burger King dude having his generator at work was going beyond the call of duty for sure. There certainly only a few restaurants(fast food or not)that had generators at there establishments back in 89. I was surprised to hear you lost power, there summers can be brutal, and those AC units can pull a lot of current as well.

The power went out a bit after midnight on Christmas day, and didn't back come on until a little before noon, as I recall. I believe, at least at the time, that FPL kept more of its power for summer AC use, but had contracts to sell their excess to the far colder northern states in winter. The cold came that year, and there simply wasn't enough juice left over to feed the heating need here, so the blackouts began. (Very few people down here use gas heat, so the electricity demand was made even worse.)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13805
Quoting Neapolitan:

I realize there is far more suffering that goes on in the world, but the deep cold on Christmas Eve was poorly-timed. The immense draw of millions of heaters being fired up by the rare sub-30 cold caused massive power outages, so we awoke Christmas morning to a chilly, dark, and silent house: no warmth, no music, no lights, no lit tree, no coffee, no breakfast, no way to cook the turkey...and my first child was eight weeks old to boot. I drove around and found a Burger King a half-mile away doing a brisk business in coffee and biscuits as the owner had the prescience to install a large generator (a fact which I filed away and used a few years later after Andrew roared through).

Again, there are many people around the world for whom such a "hardship" would be considered "better than normal". But still...
We did not lose power at my location. The Burger King dude having his generator at work was going beyond the call of duty for sure. There certainly only a few restaurants(fast food or not)that had generators at there establishments back in 89. I was surprised to hear you lost power, there summers can be brutal, and those AC units can pull a lot of current as well.!!!!!!!!! I re-read the post. He already had the generator there...He was planning ahead. I bet business would be good after a storm or hurricane...;)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
260. JRRP
Quoting Grothar:


Es esto un blog espa%uFFFDol ahora? C%uFFFDmo esta JRRP?

bien bien.. con frio aqui en Santo Domingo
desde que paso Tomas por Haiti no hemos sentido calor
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6213
Quoting JRRP:
mientras el mundo se calienta... se dieron buena vida en Cancun verdad ?


Es esto un blog español ahora? Cómo esta JRRP?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
258. JRRP
mientras el mundo se calienta... se dieron buena vida en Cancun verdad ?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6213
Quoting PensacolaDoug:


si pero no lo causamos los humanos

Me entristece ver que la negación de la verdad existe en muchos idiomas. ;-)


I don't speak spanish but I'll take a stab at the translation.

"Humans are a lost cause."

and

"The negotiators are a bunch of idiots."


My attempting to translate from spanish must be what it feels like for illiterates.
Not a good feeling.

Was I anywhere near correct?




Um, you got a few words.

It's more along the lines of:

"Yes, but we, the humans, did not cause it."

and

"I find it interesting to see that the denial of the truth happens in many languages."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
Good morning Neap. Snow here on the plateau. Was there in Port Charlotte for the Christmas Eve snow...Pretty neat.

I realize there is far more suffering that goes on in the world, but the deep cold on Christmas Eve was poorly-timed. The immense draw of millions of heaters being fired up by the rare sub-30 cold caused massive power outages, so we awoke Christmas morning to a chilly, dark, and silent house: no warmth, no music, no lights, no lit tree, no coffee, no breakfast, no way to cook the turkey...and my first child was eight weeks old to boot. I drove around and found a Burger King a half-mile away doing a brisk business in coffee and biscuits as the owner had the prescience to install a large generator (a fact which I filed away and used a few years later after Andrew roared through).

Again, there are many people around the world for whom such a "hardship" would be considered "better than normal". But still...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13805
Quoting Neapolitan:

How long have you been here? December, 1989, was miserably cold, with snow in Tampa and Miami. It was 28 in St. Pete, 24 in Tampa. Yes, miserable... ;-)
I'll take the 60 over my 30's wih wind chills in the teen.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:

How long have you been here? December, 1989, was miserably cold, with snow in Tampa and Miami. It was 28 in St. Pete, 24 in Tampa. Yes, miserable... ;-)
Good morning Neap. Snow here on the plateau. Was there in Port Charlotte for the Christmas Eve snow...Pretty neat.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Morning all. Only 73 here @ 9:00 this a.m.!

Plus we got down to 60 overnight, which is pretty chilly for this early in DEC... and a huge contrast to last year, when 73 was often lower than the overnight low temperature here... lol

Looking forward to the rest of the month, but hoping we don't get too many of these butt-freezing days...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22736
Nea - I don't think caneswatch was born yet... (in 1989...)
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
251. Neapolitan
2:33 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
Quoting caneswatch:


Geez, only 60 on Tuesday. I don't remember it being this cold in South Florida in December, ever.

How long have you been here? December, 1989, was miserably cold, with snow in Tampa and Miami. It was 28 in St. Pete, 24 in Tampa. Yes, miserable... ;-)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13805
250. Neapolitan
2:28 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
Quoting Ossqss:


Hummm, well perhaps the Wikileaks coming out (and the exposure is astounding on manipulation) on the underhanded and unusual tactics employed by the U.S. relating to last years climate meeting, if you will, or the continued dismay relating to the Chicago Climate Exchange that folded completely last month or the decree from Japan abandoning Kyoto Protocol participation at the current meeting ?

Ya ain't gonna see that news on the news in the US anytime soon or here.

Just sayin, do your homework :)



A) It's very sad, though not at all surprising, to see revealed via Wikileaks just how some interests in the United States have tried to use the government to manipulate both action and inaction on climate change. Most disturbing to me: Big Energy used the US government to try to pressure every other nation into signing onto various CO2 mitigation agreements while simultanesouly avoiding any binding commitments at home.

B) The Chicago Climate Exchange closed because of politics: November's conservative victories sent a clear signal to corporations that the US would move even further away from science, and, hence, away from any immediate action on CO2 mitigation. Without the participation of those corporations, there is no trading, and thus no need for an exchange.

C) Japan hasn't abandoned participation in the Kyoto Protocol; rather, they have stated in Cancun that they will not take on more commitments under the CO2 mitigation part of the treaty because, in their words, "...it is pointless and unfair for industrial powers to bind themselves to tough, legally binding constraints when the largest CO2 polluter--the US--has only a non-binding voluntary commitment." So it's not that Japan sees the KP as a bad mistake; rather, since corporate-led America won't join in the fight, Japan's not going to further hurt itself. IOW, it's absurd for the most obese person in the group to insist that everyone else go on a diet while he continues to shovel food down his throat.

The bottom line--again, and still--is this: the planet is warming, and mankind is almost certainly to blame. No amount of political/financial bickering or anti-science denialism is going to change that.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13805
249. islander101010
1:55 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
hope you gw fans freeze! when we bought the new ac heater unit the salesman said we did not need a heater "the earth is warming up" mr freeze is on the way islanders
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 5009
248. Thundercloud01221991
1:10 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
Forecast for western NY snow storm has been issued here
Member Since: August 1, 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 3716
247. Dakster
1:10 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
I just looked at my extended forecast. Low of 42 Tuesday night...
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815
246. Dakster
1:06 PM GMT on December 05, 2010
A little nippy in South Florida this morning for this time of the year... I might be able to put a log in the fireplace without having to turn the A/C on.
Member Since: March 10, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 10815

Viewing: 296 - 246

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Lake Effort Snow Shower Over Windsor, Ontario
Sunset on Dunham Lake
Pictured Rocks Sunset
Sunset on Lake Huron