When the Rainforests Run Dry

October 23, 2014

If you thought the California drought was bad (and it is), take a look at what's happening in southeastern Brazil. These satellite images of the Jaguari Reservoir—one of the main water sources for São Paulo, South America's largest city—show how much water levels have dropped in just one year. In the lower photo, taken in August, the resevoir is only at 3 percent to 5 percent of its carrying capacity. São Paulo, home to 21 million people, hasn't seen a drought as bad as this in 80 years. Its coffee and sugarcane crops are shriveling, and its hydroelectric dams may stop churning.

Worst of all, millions of Brazilians are facing drinking water shortages. “If it doesn’t rain, we run the risk that the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before,” said the president of Brazil’s National Water Agency. Only about a third to half as much rain as usual has fallen on southern and central Brazil, a possible result of fewer vapor clouds drifting over from the Amazon rainforest. And as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts, deforestation and climate change could be making the problem worse.

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

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