Amazon Deforestation Reduces Storms, Putting Earth at Risk

Scientists use lightning strikes to monitor climate around deforested areas.

Thu 11 Jan 24


Amazon deforestation has caused thunderstorm activity to reduce, resulting in a decrease in the amount of rain, which, in turn, has created a dangerous feedback loop that could have disastrous consequences for the global climate.

It comes as extensive deforestation in the 30 years leading up to 2020 has seen the total area of forest destroyed larger than the entire continent of Europe! 

Now, researchers have confirmed that thunderstorms overlap with areas where extensive deforestation, with the loss of 1 million large trees in the region, resulting in a 10% decrease in the number of storms in the region.

For years, global media has reported on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, where conservationists are battling to protect the forest from illegal logging and gold mining – footage courtesy of @ABCNews.

That is according to the Israeli-based Tel Aviv University, which has published, for the first time, groundbreaking research published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The findings came after researchers tracked thunderstorm activity changes over 40 years, using a worldwide network of lightning detection sensors to trace lightning strikes in the Amazon.

Professor Colin Price and researcher Raam Beckenshtein led the research and confirmed that the climate works in reverse to other areas worldwide after decades of deforestation and mismanagement. 

“In most areas of the world, global warming has increased the number of thunderstorms, but we discovered that in areas where deforestation increased, the number of storms decreased, even with rising temperatures,” they said.

The findings are worrying, given that a decrease in the number of storms leads to a reduction in the amount of rain, which causes further damage to the forests. 

Following the election of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, deforestation in the Brazilian section of the Amazon has declined sharply – footage courtesy of @aljazeeraenglish.

“This is a dangerous feedback loop, which could severely damage the forests that provide the earth with a significant portion of the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb a large portion of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere.”

Considered the ‘lungs of the earth,’ Amazonian forests produce significant oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb much carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas makes a substantial contribution to climate change.

“The rainforests also produce rain: the trees emit water vapour via evaporation into the air that eventually condenses and forms clouds and rain above the rainforests. Hence, the forests influence the local and regional rainfall,” Professor Price said.

To sum up, the destruction of rainforests impacts global oxygen levels while increasing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and disrupting natural rainfall patterns that may lead to further drought in some areas. 

In addition, cut-down trees are burned and then buried, “releasing additional carbon dioxide into the air and contributing to global warming,” according to Professor Price.

The European Centre for Climate (ERA5) uses a process known as “reanalysis” to map global weather patterns – footage courtesy of @CopernicusECMWF.

The researchers’ findings came after they tracked changes in thunderstorm activity dating back to the 1980s. Without thunderstorm data, they constructed a new empirical model based on Europe’s Centre for Climate (ERA5), which has collected data on global climate since 1940. 

They then used storm data collected through a worldwide network of lightning detection sensors called WWLLN – the Worldwide Lightning Location Network. 

“Lightning is the result of a huge electric field that is discharged all at once, producing radio waves which can be received thousands of kilometres away,” Professor Price said.

“The sensors of the WWLLN network are used in 70 research institutions worldwide, and they receive and map, in real-time, Lightning everywhere on the surface of the earth.” 

“Here at Tel Aviv University, on the roof of the Geophysics building, we have one of the sensors that pick up radio waves from thunderstorms in our region, in Africa, India, and even South America. Cross-referencing the information from the various stations determines the location and time of each lightning strike, and thus a global map of lightning strikes over time is obtained.”

They then examined the relationship between the frequency and distribution of thunderstorms in South America and changes in temperature in the Amazon region since the 1980s. 

A statistical analysis of the data revealed surprising findings: despite the climate-induced increase in temperatures, there was a decrease of almost 8% in activity over the same period. 

According to Professor Price, “most of the decrease (in activity) was observed in those areas where the rainforests have been replaced by agriculture or other human activity.” 

“The decrease can be explained by the absence of the forests, which significantly reduced the moisture in the air, which is the source of energy and moisture needed for the formation of thunderstorms. The result is fewer thunderstorms, fewer clouds, less rain, and consequently less forest growth.”

In 2020, Global Witness reported that leading US banks invested in South American and Central African activities, leading to tropical deforestation. Some of these products are sold back into Western Economies as finished forest products—footage courtesy of @GlobalWitness.

The new research comes after Wood Central revealed that global banks fund widespread deforestation and conflict timber in the Amazon basin.

Almost 65% of the US $300 Billion-plus global deforestation activity flows back to Amazon-related activity, with more than 70% of the US $200 Billion-plus investment in Beef and Soy interests.

The report, known as the Banking on Biodiversity Collapse: Tracking the Banks and Investors Driving Tropical Deforestation, alleges that the US “Big Three” financial investors, including BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street “, are among the global leaders for “investing in biodiversity collapse.”

Last month, the Amazon countries, led by Brazil, pushed for the development of a US $250 billion “megafund” with funds provided by global governments and the private sector to give to tropical countries meeting minimum thresholds for limiting deforestation.


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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