Impact of agricultural expansion on water footprint in the Amazon under climate change scenarios

Laura Miguel Ayala*, Michiel van Eupen, Guoping Zhang, Marta Pérez-Soba, Lucieta G. Martorano, Leila S. Lisboa, Norma E. Beltrao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural expansion and intensification are main drivers of land-use change in Brazil. Soybean is the major crop under expansion in the area. Soybean production involves large amounts of water and fertiliser that act as sources of contamination with potentially negative impacts on adjacent water bodies. These impacts might be intensified by projected climate change in tropical areas. A Water Footprint Assessment (WFA) serves as a tool to assess environmental impacts of water and fertiliser use. The aim of this study was to understand potential impacts on environmental sustainability of agricultural intensification close to a protected forest area of the Amazon under climate change. We carried out a WFA to calculate the water footprint (WF) related to soybean production, Glycine max, to understand the sustainability of the WF in the Tapajós river basin, a region in the Brazilian Amazon with large expansion and intensification of soybean. Based on global datasets, environmental hotspots — potentially unsustainable WF areas — were identified and spatially plotted in both baseline scenario (2010) and projection into 2050 through the use of a land-use change scenario that includes climate change effects. Results show green and grey WF values in 2050 increased by 304% and 268%, respectively. More than one-third of the watersheds doubled their grey WF in 2050. Soybean production in 2010 lies within sustainability limits. However, current soybean expansion and intensification trends lead to large impacts in relation to water pollution and water use, affecting protected areas. Areas not impacted in terms of water pollution dropped by 20.6% in 2050 for the whole catchment, while unsustainability increased 8.1%. Management practices such as water consumption regulations to stimulate efficient water use, reduction of crop water use and evapotranspiration, and optimal fertiliser application control could be key factors in achieving sustainability within a river basin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1173
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Deforestation
  • Land use change
  • Soybean production
  • Sustainability
  • Water use


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