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School of Geography

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Assessing the impacts of the 2010 drought on Amazon zone of transition

PI: Oliver Phillips (University of Leeds)

Co-I: Ted Feldpausch (University of Leeds)

Overview: In 2010 the Amazon Basin experienced unusually dry conditions, a second major drought in five years, a pattern which is remarkably similar to some predictions of the future climate of the region. This is because most climate models predict an increase in dry season intensity, and all an increase in temperature in the coming century as a consequence of global climate change. Whether or not long-term climate change is already involved the current event can help us evaluate how humid forest, deciduous forests and savanna ecosystems and species respond to drying, so helping assess the potential scale of impacts as the Amazon climate dries.

Our team has a large network of on-the-ground sample plots in the region, and because these are standardised they represent an excellent opportunity to measure the actual impacts of drought. We already did this with the severe 2005 drought (described then as 'the drought of the century' but surpassed in extent this year). In this proposal we focus on our sites at the southern fringes of Amazonia, an area very strongly affected by the 2010 drought. This large area is a 'zone of tension' between Amazon moist forest species, deciduous species, and savanna, with the various vegetation types sometimes adjacent in the same sites.  Here we have 30 permanent plots available so we are able for the first time to measure the on-the-ground impacts on different species and vegetation formations at this forest/savanna mixing zone. This is important because it is expected that within these zones of ecological tension that long-term vegetation changes will first be observed, and these areas of high diversity and high carbon storage could significantly affect regional carbon emissions.

We plan to do the following:

1) Recensus 30 southern Amazon plots to record tree growth and vegetation productivity

2) Remeasure nearly 500 trees where we have pre-drought measures of details of their structure, to assess if drought has changed them

3) Install high-precision measurement tools ("dendrometers") on trees of key species, to enable better monitoring of future droughts

4) Analyse data collected from (1) & (2) to test our hypotheses

Start Date: February 2011

End Date: August 2012

Funder: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Small Grants

Grant Reference: NE/I02982X/1

Details: NERC Grants on the Web