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Gianna Gruen | Ideas

Deforestation means less hydropower

Satellite image of the Rondonia region of Brazil showing the massive deforestation underway in the south-central Amazon Basin. (Photo: CC BY 2.0: Banco de Imágenes Geológicas)

The Amazon deforestation rate rocketed to 88 percent during the last year: From August 2012 to April 2013, 606 squaremiles of forest were cut down compared with 322 square miles within the previous year, claimed as a record low.
That’s the conclusion of researchers from the National Institute of Space Research, who frequently monitor forest coverage with help of satellite images. Until recently, they could announce a slowing of deforestation. But, now it seems that the fate of one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots has changed.

Trees take more water from the ground than crops do – and release more water vapour into the atmosphere. There, it turns to rain and finally feeds hydropower plants (Photo: CC BY SA 2.0: International Center for Tropical Agriculture)

The report comes on the heels of another study: scientists recently drew a connection between deforestation and energy supply. They looked at the Xingu river region in Brazil and found that cutting trees also cuts rainfall, resulting in reduced hydropower generation. That could lead to the country’s biggest dam project, Belo Monte,  delivering a third less energy.

The link between deforestation and energy supply is often ignored, according to the study. “Feasibility studies of hydropower plants typically ignore the effect of future deforestation or assume that deforestation will have a positive effect on river discharge,” it says.

Rainfall does not depend on regional forest cover in the Amazon region alone.  Major tropical forested regions in Central Africa and Southeast Asia also play a major role. “This dependence could affect hydropower expansion plans of a large number of developing nations in these regions “, the study concludes.


May 25, 2013



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