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Jose A. Marengo, Lincoln M. Alves, Wagner R. Soares, Daniel A. Rodriguez, Helio Camargo, Marco Paredes Riveros, and Amelia Diaz Pabló

Abstract

Two simultaneous extreme events affected tropical South America to the east of the Andes during the austral summer and fall of 2012: a severe drought in Northeast Brazil and intense rainfall and floods in Amazonia, both considered records for the last 50 years. Changes in atmospheric circulation and rainfall were consistent with the notion of an active role of colder-than-normal surface waters in the equatorial Pacific, with above-normal upward motion and rainfall in western Amazonia and increased subsidence over Northeast Brazil. Atmospheric circulation and soil moisture anomalies in the region contributed to an intensified transport of Atlantic moisture into the western part of Amazonia then turning southward to the southern Amazonia region, where the Chaco low was intensified. This was favored by the intensification of subtropical high pressure over the region, associated with an anomalously intense and northward-displaced Atlantic high over a relatively colder subtropical South Atlantic Ocean. This pattern observed in 2012 was not found during other wet years in Amazonia such as 1989, 1999, and 2009. This suggests La Niña as the main cause of the abundant rainfall in western Amazonia from October to December, with wet conditions starting earlier and remaining until March 2012, mostly in northwestern Amazonia. The anomalously high river levels during the following May–July were a consequence of this early and abundant rainy season during the previous summer. In Northeast Brazil, dry conditions started to appear in December 2011 in the northern sector and then extended to the entire region by the peak of the rainy season of February–May 2012.

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José A. Marengo, Carlos A. Nobre, Javier Tomasella, Marcos D. Oyama, Gilvan Sampaio de Oliveira, Rafael de Oliveira, Helio Camargo, Lincoln M. Alves, and I. Foster Brown

Abstract

In 2005, large sections of southwestern Amazonia experienced one of the most intense droughts of the last hundred years. The drought severely affected human population along the main channel of the Amazon River and its western and southwestern tributaries, the Solimões (also known as the Amazon River in the other Amazon countries) and the Madeira Rivers, respectively. The river levels fell to historic low levels and navigation along these rivers had to be suspended. The drought did not affect central or eastern Amazonia, a pattern different from the El Niño–related droughts in 1926, 1983, and 1998. The choice of rainfall data used influenced the detection of the drought. While most datasets (station or gridded data) showed negative departures from mean rainfall, one dataset exhibited above-normal rainfall in western Amazonia.

The causes of the drought were not related to El Niño but to (i) the anomalously warm tropical North Atlantic, (ii) the reduced intensity in northeast trade wind moisture transport into southern Amazonia during the peak summertime season, and (iii) the weakened upward motion over this section of Amazonia, resulting in reduced convective development and rainfall. The drought conditions were intensified during the dry season into September 2005 when humidity was lower than normal and air temperatures were 3°–5°C warmer than normal. Because of the extended dry season in the region, forest fires affected part of southwestern Amazonia. Rains returned in October 2005 and generated flooding after February 2006.

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