Climate Change Will Affect Water Processes of the Amazon Basin, Study Finds

October 12, 2016


  • • Models suggest hydrological changes that could impact transportation, flood vulnerability, fisheries, and hydropower generation in Amazon basin
  • • Findings are relevant to water and environmental conservation and management

NEW YORK (October 12, 2016)—Climate change is likely to alter the hydrological processes of the Amazon River basin, according to scientists and authors of a recently published study which predicts that future trends could result in wetter conditions in the western Amazon and drier ones in the east.

In a region that relies upon the rivers and floodplains of the basin for subsistence, these hydrological changes could have impacts on transportation, energy needs, housing, and food security for millions, say the study’s authors, who used regional data and computer modelling to project future conditions in the Amazon River basin surface waters in the context of climate change. The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Climatic Change.

The authors coupled climate forcing projections with computational models to simulate future trends in the region’s river discharge and floodplain inundation. Data from recent analyses conducted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were used for the simulations. While results of the various projections produced differed on the specifics, the overall results of the modelling showed two contrasting scenarios for different parts of the Amazon Basin; specifically, increased precipitation in western Amazon can increase inundation in the Peruvian floodplains and discharge from the Solimões River, as the western Amazon River is called in Brazil. The projections also showed lower river discharges for the eastern part of the Amazon basin.

The potential implications of the study for the future of the region are significant, the authors assert. In addition to the large quantities of water flowing through the Amazon basin’s rivers and floodplains, the system regulates carbon and nutrient biogeochemistry and carbon dioxide and methane cycles. The Amazon also supports highly diverse ecosystems and productive fisheries, which serve as subsistence for local people who live along the rivers and in the floodplains. Rivers are utilized as transportation corridors and hydropower satisfies much of the region’s energy demands.

“Large freshwater ecosystems, such as the Amazon basin, provide essential services to millions of people, including water and food supply, but also climate and flood regulation,” said Mino Sorribas of Instituto de Pesquisas Hidráulicas and first author of the study. “Moreover, investigating alterations in hydrological processes due to climate change shifts and increased water demand are needed to raise environmental awareness and move towards water security developments.”

The study is part of the Amazon Waters Initiative (AWI), a project that investigates how connectivity of this vast, interlinked, and dynamic freshwater system can be maintained to support local communities, wildlife, and the environments on which they depend.

AWI is supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), a partnership that includes WCS, the Nature Conservancy, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), and others that delivers evidence-based, scalable solutions to global challenges at the intersection of nature conservation, sustainable development, and human well-being. The SNAPP group is looking to use its science to suggest management and policy pathways for large-scale aquatic conservation based on integrated river basin management.

The authors of the study titled “Projections of climate change effects on discharge and inundation in the Amazon basin” are: Mino Viana Sorribas of Instituto de Pesquisas Hidráulicas, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Rodrigo C. D. Paiva of Instituto de Pesquisas Hidráulicas, Porto Alegre, Brazil;  John M. Melack of the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA; Juan Martin Bravo of Instituto de Pesquisas Hidráulicas, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Charles Jones the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA; Leila Carvalho of the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA; Edward Beighley of Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA; Bruce Forsberg of Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus, Brazil; and Marcos Heil Costa of Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Viçosa, Brazil.

See original release here, and the study here.