Four decades of land-cover, land-use and hydroclimatology changes in the Itacaiúnas River watershed, southeastern Amazon

J Environ Manage. 2016 Feb 1;167:175-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2015.11.039.


Long-term human-induced impacts have significantly changed the Amazonian landscape. The most dramatic land cover and land use (LCLU) changes began in the early 1970s with the establishment of the Trans-Amazon Highway and large government projects associated with the expansion of agricultural settlement and cattle ranching, which cleared significant tropical forest cover in the areas of new and accelerated human development. Taking the changes in the LCLU over the past four decades as a basis, this study aims to determine the consequences of land cover (forest and savanna) and land use (pasturelands, mining and urban) changes on the hydroclimatology of the Itacaiúnas River watershed area of the located in the southeastern Amazon region. We analyzed a multi-decadal Landsat dataset from 1973, 1984, 1994, 2004 and 2013 and a 40-yr time series of water discharge from the Itacaiúnas River, as well as air temperature and relative humidity data over this drainage area for the same period. We employed standard Landsat image processing techniques in conjunction with a geographic object-based image analysis and multi-resolution classification approach. With the goal of detecting possible long-term trends, non-parametric Mann-Kendall test was applied, based on a Sen slope estimator on a 40-yr annual PREC, TMED and RH time series, considering the spatial average of the entire watershed. In the 1970s, the region was entirely covered by forest (99%) and savanna (∼0.3%). Four decades later, only ∼48% of the tropical forest remains, while pasturelands occupy approximately 50% of the watershed area. Moreover, in protected areas, nearly 97% of the tropical forest remains conserved, while the forest cover of non-protected areas is quite fragmented and, consequently, unevenly distributed, covering an area of only 30%. Based on observational data analysis, there is evidence that the conversion of forest cover to extensive and homogeneous pasturelands was accompanied by systematic modifications to the hydroclimatology cycle of the Itacaiúnas watershed, thus highlighting drier environmental conditions due to a rise in the region's air temperature, a decrease in the relative humidity, and an increase in river discharge.

Keywords: Brazil; Change detection; Deforestation impacts; Hydro-climate change; Water discharge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Brazil
  • Cattle
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Environment
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Remote Sensing Technology
  • Rivers
  • Tropical Climate