Received: 23 Apr 2010 – Discussion started: 05 May 2010
Abstract. Some recent climate modeling results suggested a possible dieback of the Amazon rainforest under future climate change, a prediction that raised considerable interest as well as controversy. To determine the likelihood and causes of such changes, we analyzed the output of 15 models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC/AR4) and a dynamic vegetation model VEGAS driven by these climate output. Our results suggest that the core of the Amazon rainforest should remain largely stable as rainfall is projected to increase in nearly all models. However, the periphery, notably the southern edge of the Amazon and further south in central Brazil, are in danger of drying out, driven by two main processes. Firstly, a decline in precipitation of 22% in the southern Amazon's dry season (May–September) reduces soil moisture, despite an increase in precipitation during the wet season, due to nonlinear responses in hydrology and ecosystem dynamics. Two dynamical mechanisms may explain the lower dry season rainfall: (1) a general subtropical drying under global warming when the dry season southern Amazon is under the control of the subtropical high pressure; (2) a stronger north-south tropical Atlantic sea surface temperature gradient, and to lesser degree a warmer eastern equatorial Pacific. Secondly, evaporation demand will increase due to the general warming, further reducing soil moisture. In terms of ecosystem response, higher maintenance cost and reduced productivity under warming may also have additional adverse impact. The drying corresponds to a lengthening of the dry season by 11 days. As a consequence, the median of the models projects a reduction of 20% in vegetation carbon stock in the southern Amazon, central Brazil, and parts of the Andean Mountains. Further, VEGAS predicts enhancement of fire risk by 10–15%. The increase in fire is primarily due to the reduction in soil moisture, and the decrease in dry season rainfall, which is when fire danger reaches its peak. Because the southern Amazon is also under intense human influence as a result of deforestation and land use, added pressure to the region's ecosystems from climate change may subject the region to profound changes in the 21st century.
How to cite. Cook, B., Zeng, N., and Yoon, J.-H.: Climatic and ecological future of the Amazon: likelihood and causes of change, Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss., 1, 63–101, https://doi.org/10.5194/esdd-1-63-2010, 2010.