Shrinking Rain Forests Could Effect Hydroelectric Power Output

One of the biggest concerns for environmentalists over the past several years has been the shrinking size of rain forests in South America. Rain forests provide important ecological benefits for the whole world, not just South America, and their demise has led to a number of environmental disasters that could have devastating consequences for human beings and the natural world.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that rainforests also have an enormous role to play in hydroelectric power generation. Dams along the Amazon River generate 80 percent of Brazil's energy, but the study states that these structures will produce considerably less electricity – a third less – because the decline of rainforests means a decrease in rainfall for the region.

Dr. Claudia Stickler, from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute International Programme, told BBC News that trees in the rainforest play an instrumental role in creating rainfall. "They pull water out of the soil on a daily basis," she said. "The main reason is they are always pumping moisture into the atmosphere which ultimately ends up being rainfall and that's what keeps these streams going too."

Previously, scientists had determined that a reduction in the number of trees around a river could increase water levels, because precipitation no longer becomes trapped in tree roots before it reaches the stream. However, the data in this study indicates that this rise in water level is offset by the reduction in rainfall brought on by deforestation.

The study predicted that by 2050, there would be 40 percent less forest cover along the Amazon, resulting in a drop in electrical production of 30 to 40 percent.

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