Spatiotemporal patterns of tropical deforestation and forest degradation in response to the operation of the Tucuruí hydroelectricdam in the Amazon basin

Gang Chen*, Ryan P. Powers, Luis M.T. de Carvalho, Brice Mora

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The planned construction of hundreds of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin has the potential to provide invaluable 'clean' energy resources for aiding in securing future regional energy needs and continued economic growth. These mega-structures, however, directly and indirectly interfere with natural ecosystem dynamics, and can cause noticeable tree loss. To improve our understanding of how hydroelectric dams affect the surrounding spatiotemporal patterns of forest disturbances, this case study integrated remote sensing spectral mixture analysis, GIS proximity analysis and statistical hypothesis testing to extract and evaluate spatially-explicit patterns of deforestation (clearing of entire forest patch) and forest degradation (reduced tree density) in the 80,000km2 neighborhoods of the Brazil's Tucuruí Dam, the first large-scale hydroelectric project in the Amazon region, over a period of 25 years from 1988 to 2013. Results show that the average rates of deforestation were consistent during the first three time periods 1988-1995 (620km2 per year), 1995-2001 (591km2 per year), and 2001-2008 (660km2 per year). However, such rate dramatically fell to half of historical levels after 2008, possibly reflecting the 2008 global economic crisis and enforcement of the Brazilian Law of Environmental Crimes. The rate of forest degradation was relatively stable from 1988 to 2013 and, on average, was 17.8% of the rate of deforestation. Deforestation and forest degradation were found to follow similar spatial patterns across the dam neighborhoods, upstream reaches or downstream reaches at the distances of 5km-80km, suggesting that small and large-scale forest disturbances may have been influencing each other in the vicinity of the dam. We further found that the neighborhoods of the Tucuruí Dam and the upstream region experienced similar degrees of canopy loss. Such loss was mainly attributed to the fast expansion of the Tucuruí town, and the intensive logging activities alongside major roads in the upstream reservoir region. In contrast, a significantly lower level of forest disturbance was discovered in the downstream region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalApplied Geography
Volume63
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Amazon basin
  • Deforestation
  • Forest degradation
  • GIS
  • Hydroelectric dam
  • Remote sensing
  • Spatiotemporal pattern
  • Statistical analysis

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