Fewer trees mean less rain, decreased hydropower

rain forest deforestation photo
© ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

A new study published by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences serves as a great example of the interconnectedness of nature and how human activity can disrupt life-sustaining systems.

The New York Times reports:

For years, scientists and engineers have noted an increase in river flows when the trees along streams are removed. The water in the soil, which would otherwise have been taken up by the tree roots and sent into the atmosphere, instead moves directly into streams and rivers.

At the same time, large areas of tropical forest actually create rain clouds as moisture from their leaves evaporates. So the elimination of swaths of these forests decreases rainfall. Cut down enough trees, the scientists argue, and the indirect impact of lost rainfall outweighs the direct impact of removing trees.

That nature consists of interconnected systems is certainly not a new concept, but this study is significant because it changes the economic calculus of investing in new hydro-power projects, such as the Brazil's controversial Belo Monte dam, while also providing new financial incentives for conserving the rain forest.

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