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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Mathematisch-Naturwissen­schaft­liche Fakultät - International Research Training Group 1740

N Boers, N Marwan, H M Barbosa, and J Kurths (2017)

A deforestation-induced tipping point for the South American monsoon system

Scientific reports, 7:41489.

The Amazon rainforest has been proposed as a tipping element of the earth system, with the possibility of a dieback of the entire ecosystem due to deforestation only of parts of the rainforest. Possible physical mechanisms behind such a transition are still subject to ongoing debates. Here, we use a specifically designed model to analyse the nonlinear couplings between the Amazon rainforest and the atmospheric moisture transport from the Atlantic to the South American continent. These couplings are associated with a westward cascade of precipitation and evapotranspiration across the Amazon. We investigate impacts of deforestation on the South American monsoonal circulation with particular focus on a previously neglected positive feedback related to condensational latent heating over the rainforest, which strongly enhances atmospheric moisture inflow from the Atlantic. Our results indicate the existence of a tipping point. In our model setup, crossing the tipping point causes precipitation reductions of up to 40% in non-deforested parts of the western Amazon and regions further downstream. The responsible mechanism is the breakdown of the aforementioned feedback, which occurs when deforestation reduces transpiration to a point where the available atmospheric moisture does not suffice anymore to release the latent heat needed to maintain the feedback.