08 Nov 2023
 | 08 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Riverine Sediment Response to Deforestation in the Amazon Basin

Anuska Narayanan, Sagy Cohen, and John Robert Gardner

Abstract. The Amazon experiences thousands of square kilometres of deforestation annually with recent rates increasing to levels unseen since the late 2000s. These increased rates of deforestation within the basin have led to changes in sediment concentration within its river systems, with potential impacts on ecological functioning, freshwater availability, and fluvial and coastal geomorphic processes. The relationship between deforestation and fluvial sediment dynamics at large scales has not been extensively studied, in the Amazon or elsewhere, primarily due to lack of data. In this study, we utilize a novel remote sensing-derived sediment concentration dataset to analyze the impact of deforestation from 2001 to 2020 on suspended sediment in large rivers (> 50 m wide) across the Amazon River Basin. These impacts are studied using a lag-based approach to quantify the spatiotemporal relationships between observed suspended sediment and changes in landcover over time. The results show that large scale deforestation of the Amazon during the 2001–2020 period are associated with significant changes in sediment concentration in the eastern portion of the basin. In the heavily deforested eastern regions, the hydrogeomorphic response to deforestation occurs relatively rapidly (within a year), whereas the less disturbed western areas exhibit delays of one to two years before responses are observable. Moreover, we observe that deforestation must be substantial enough to overcome the collective influences of human activities and natural sediment variations to result in a discernible impact on sediment concentration in large rivers. In 69 % of Amazonian major tributary basins with an immediate response, more than 5 % of the basin was deforested during the 2001–2020 period, while in 85 % of basins with lagged responses, less than 5 % of the land was cleared. These findings suggest severe implications for future sediment dynamics across the Amazon if deforestation is to further expand into the basin.

Anuska Narayanan et al.

Status: open (until 30 Dec 2023)

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Anuska Narayanan et al.

Model code and software

SSC data generation code John Gardner

Anuska Narayanan et al.


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Short summary

This study investigates Amazon deforestation's profound impact on sediment dynamics. Novel remote sensing data and statistical analyses reveal significant changes, especially in heavily deforested regions, with rapid effects within a year. In less disturbed areas, a 1- to 2-year lag occurs, influenced by natural sediment shifts and human activities. These findings highlight the need to understand human activities' consequences for our planet's future.