Amazon deforestation could trigger droughts in U.S. West

Nov. 7, 2013 at 4:11 PM
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PRINCETON, N.J., Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could affect climate elsewhere, and total deforestation could lead to droughts in the U.S. West, scientists say.

A study led by researchers at Princeton University suggests total deforestation of the Amazon may significantly reduce rain and snowfall in the western United States, resulting in water and food shortages and a greater risk of forest fires, the university reported Thursday.

Deforestation will likely produce dry air over the Amazon, and computer models suggest the atmosphere's normal weather-moving mechanics would create a ripple effect that would move that dry air directly over the western United States from December to February, the scientists said.

Deforestation is a concern for regions outside of South America, they said, because the rainforest influences various aspects of the surrounding climate, including cloud coverage, heat absorption and rainfall.

"The big point is that Amazon deforestation will not only affect the Amazon -- it will not be contained," Princeton goesciences Professor David Medvigy said. "It will hit the atmosphere and the atmosphere will carry those responses.

"It just so happens that one of the locations feeling that response will be one we care about most agriculturally," he said. "If you change the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, where most of the irrigation for California's Central Valley comes from, then by this study deforestation of the Amazon could have serious consequences for the food supply of the United States."

The Amazon's fragility and vulnerability, combined with its significant effect on global climate, add an urgency to the need to better understand how the forest's disappearance will affect the rest of the world, Medvigy said.

"We don't know what the world will be like without the Amazon."

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