Trends in the hydrologic cycle of the Amazon Basin


  • Marcos Heil Costa,

  • Jonathan A. Foley


Although previous studies have considered the long-term variability of precipitation and river discharge in the Amazon basin, other components of the hydrologic cycle, such as evapotranspiration and the transport of water vapor, have not received the same attention. This study examines the 20-year variability of the full hydrologic budget of the Amazon basin, using a 1976–1996 time series from the National Centers for Environmental Protection/National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalyzed meteorological data set. Within this 20-year record, there is a statistically significant decreasing trend in the atmospheric transport of water vapor both into and out of the Amazon basin. This trend is associated with a general relaxation of the southeasterly trade winds, a weakening of the east-to-west pressure gradient, and a warming of the sea surface temperatures in the equatorial South Atlantic region. While the atmospheric transport of water vapor through the Amazon basin has decreased, the internal recycling of precipitation within the basin increased and basin-wide precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff have remained nearly constant. Even though basin-average precipitation and runoff have remained fairly stable, other components of the Amazon basin's hydrologic cycle have been altered significantly by large-scale changes in atmospheric circulation.