Articles | Volume 14, issue 23
Research article
15 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 15 Dec 2014

On the importance of cascading moisture recycling in South America

D. C. Zemp, C.-F. Schleussner, H. M. J. Barbosa, R. J. van der Ent, J. F. Donges, J. Heinke, G. Sampaio, and A. Rammig

Abstract. Continental moisture recycling is a crucial process of the South American climate system. In particular, evapotranspiration from the Amazon basin contributes substantially to precipitation regionally as well as over other remote regions such as the La Plata basin. Here we present an in-depth analysis of South American moisture recycling mechanisms. In particular, we quantify the importance of cascading moisture recycling (CMR), which describes moisture transport between two locations on the continent that involves re-evaporation cycles along the way. Using an Eulerian atmospheric moisture tracking model forced by a combination of several historical climate data sets, we were able to construct a complex network of moisture recycling for South America. Our results show that CMR contributes about 9–10% to the total precipitation over South America and 17–18% over the La Plata basin. CMR increases the fraction of total precipitation over the La Plata basin that originates from the Amazon basin from 18–23 to 24–29% during the wet season. We also show that the south-western part of the Amazon basin is not only a direct source of rainfall over the La Plata basin, but also a key intermediary region that distributes moisture originating from the entire Amazon basin towards the La Plata basin during the wet season. Our results suggest that land use change in this region might have a stronger impact on downwind rainfall than previously thought. Using complex network analysis techniques, we find the eastern side of the sub-tropical Andes to be a key region where CMR pathways are channeled. This study offers a better understanding of the interactions between the vegetation and the atmosphere on the water cycle, which is needed in a context of land use and climate change in South America.

Final-revised paper