Articles | Volume 19, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 241–273, 2015
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 241–273, 2015

Research article 15 Jan 2015

Research article | 15 Jan 2015

Hydrometeorological effects of historical land-conversion in an ecosystem-atmosphere model of Northern South America

R. G. Knox*,1, M. Longo2, A. L. S. Swann3, K. Zhang2,***, N. M. Levine2,****, P. R. Moorcroft2, and R. L. Bras4 R. G. Knox et al.
  • 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • 2Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • 3University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
  • 4Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • *now at: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, USA
  • **now at: EMBRAPA Satellite Monitoring, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
  • ***now at: Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma, USA
  • ****now at: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA

Abstract. This work investigates how the integrated land use of northern South America has affected the present day regional patterns of hydrology. A model of the terrestrial ecosystems (ecosystem demography model 2: ED2) is combined with an atmospheric model (Brazilian Regional Atmospheric Modeling System: BRAMS). Two realizations of the structure and composition of terrestrial vegetation are used as the sole differences in boundary conditions that drive two simulations. One realization captures the present day vegetation condition that includes deforestation and land conversion, the other is an estimate of the potential structure and composition of the region's vegetation without human influence. Model output is assessed for differences in resulting hydrometeorology.

The simulations suggest that the history of land conversion in northern South America is not associated with a significant precipitation bias in the northern part of the continent, but has shown evidence of a negative bias in mean regional evapotranspiration and a positive bias in mean regional runoff. Also, negative anomalies in evaporation rates showed pattern similarity with areas where deforestation has occurred. In the central eastern Amazon there was an area where deforestation and abandonment had lead to an overall reduction of above-ground biomass, but this was accompanied by a shift in forest composition towards early successional functional types and grid-average-patterned increases in annual transpiration.

Anomalies in annual precipitation showed mixed evidence of consistent patterning. Two focus areas were identified where more consistent precipitation anomalies formed, one in the Brazilian state of Pará where a dipole pattern formed, and one in the Bolivian Gran Chaco, where a negative anomaly was identified. These locations were scrutinized to understand the basis of their anomalous hydrometeorologic response. In both cases, deforestation led to increased total surface albedo, driving decreases in net radiation, boundary layer moist static energy and ultimately decreased convective precipitation. In the case of the Gran Chaco, decreased precipitation was also a result of decreased advective moisture transport, indicating that differences in local hydrometeorology may manifest via teleconnections with the greater region.