Scaling properties reveal regulation of river flows in the Amazon through a “forest reservoir”

Salazar, Juan Fernando; Villegas, Juan Camilo; Rendón, Angela María; Rodríguez, Estiven; Hoyos, Isabel; Mercado-Bettín, Daniel; Poveda, Germán

Many natural and social phenomena depend on river flow regimes that are being altered by global change. Understanding the mechanisms behind such alterations is crucial for predicting river flow regimes in a changing environment. Here we introduce a novel physical interpretation of the scaling properties of river flows and show that it leads to a parsimonious characterization of the flow regime of any river basin. This allows river basins to be classified as regulated or unregulated, and to identify a critical threshold between these states. We applied this framework to the Amazon river basin and found both states among its main tributaries. Then we introduce the “forest reservoir” hypothesis to describe the natural capacity of river basins to regulate river flows through land–atmosphere interactions (mainly precipitation recycling) that depend strongly on the presence of forests. A critical implication is that forest loss can force the Amazonian river basins from regulated to unregulated states. Our results provide theoretical and applied foundations for predicting hydrological impacts of global change, including the detection of early-warning signals for critical transitions in river basins.

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Salazar, Juan Fernando / Villegas, Juan Camilo / Rendón, Angela María / et al: Scaling properties reveal regulation of river flows in the Amazon through a “forest reservoir”. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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