Climate prediction tools show role of oceans in Amazon drought and fire season

In the last decade, warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic have corresponded with below-average precipitation in Peru and western Brazil. The relationship is due to the effect of sea surface temperatures on the location of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) – a band of clouds and rain stretching around the globe where trade winds from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres converge.

Kátia Fernandes, associate research scientist at the IRI, collaborates with colleagues from the Center for International Forestry Research to study the connection. They have found that the influence of the Atlantic sea surface temperatures on the ITCZ enables the prediction of droughts three months before the start of the July-to-September dry season. Such predictions can be used by people in the western Amazon to prepare for increased fire risk during especially dry years.

The researchers are continuing their work in this region by evaluating whether the strong relationship between the Atlantic and droughts observed in the past 15 years is part of a long-term climate change signal or related to natural climate variability.

Read more from the Center for International Forestry Research.