Compounding impact of deforestation on Borneo's climate during El Niño events

Sarah Chapman, Jozef Syktus, Ralph Trancoso, Alvaro Salazar, Marcus Thatcher, James E.M. Watson, Erik Meijaard, Douglas Sheil, Paul Dargusch, Clive A. Mcalpine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Both deforestation and El Nieo events influence Borneo's climate, but their interaction is not well understood. Borneo's native forest cover decreased by 37.1% between 1980 and 2015 with large areas being replaced by oil palm and a mosaic of plantations and regrowth vegetation. The island is also affected by El Nieo events, resulting in severe droughts and fires. Here, we used a high-resolution climate model to simulate and evaluate how deforestation and El Nieo episodes interact during the 1980-2016 period. Simulations revealed that deforestation resulted in a warmer and drier climate with the most pronounced changes in the extensively deforested regions of eastern and southern Borneo. Deforestation-linked impacts were more pronounced under El Nieo than neutral (non El Nieo/La Niea) conditions. Changes in climate mainly corresponded with areas with the most deforestation. There was a significant increase in the frequency of hotter and drier climatic extremes, with the probability distribution of temperature, humidity and aridity shifting from narrow to a broadening distribution. For example, the frequency of 90th percentile of the hot temperatures (defined as average monthly temperatures >28.9 °C) during the dry season increased from 10% for neutral conditions for the 1980 forest cover to 22% for neutral conditions for the 2015 forest cover. For strong El Nieo events, the frequency increased from 15.6% to 32.5%. Replacement of intact native forest with oil palm resulted in increased frequency of hot temperatures to 49% for neutral and 74% for El Nieo conditions. Hotter and drier conditions are likely to increase tree mortality and forest flammability (and fire-driven deforestation). The continued reduction and fragmentation of Borneo's forests diminishes the ability to moderate regional climate impacted by larger scale and other regional/local human climate forcings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number084006
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • biophysical feedbacks
  • drought
  • fire risk
  • land cover change
  • oil palm
  • temperature extremes

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