Khanna, Jaya; Medvigy, David; Fueglistaler, Stephan; Walko, Robert
More than 20% Amazon rainforest has been cleared in the past three decades triggering important hydroclimatic changes. Small-scale (~few kilometers) deforestation in the 1980s has caused thermally-triggered atmospheric circulations that increase regional cloudiness and precipitation frequency. However, these circulations are predicted to diminish as deforestation increases. Here we use multi-decadal satellite records and numerical model simulations to show a regime shift in the regional hydroclimate accompanying increasing deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil. Compared to the 1980s, present-day deforested areas in downwind western Rondônia are found to be wetter than upwind eastern deforested areas during the local dry season. The resultant precipitation change in the two regions is approximately ±25% of the deforested area mean. Meso-resolution simulations robustly reproduce this transition when forced with increasing deforestation alone, showing a negligible role of large-scale climate variability. Furthermore, deforestation-induced surface roughness reduction is found to play an essential role in the present-day dry season hydroclimate. Our study illustrates the strong scale-sensitivity of the climatic response to Amazonian deforestation and suggests that deforestation is sufficiently advanced to have caused a shift from a thermally- to a dynamically-driven hydroclimatic regime.