The Amazon experienced its second 100-year drought in five years this year. The record drought began in April, during the usual start to the region’s dry season, when rainfall less than 75% of average fell over much of the southern Amazon (Figure 2.) The drought continued through September, and by October, when the rainy season finally arrived, the largest northern tributary of the Amazon River–the Rio Negro–had dropped to thirteen feet (four meters) below its usual dry season level. This was its lowest level since record keeping began in 1902. The low water mark is all the more remarkable since the Rio Negro caused devastating flooding in 2009, when it hit an all-time record high, 53 ft (16 m) higher than the 2010 record low. The 2010 drought is similar in intensity and scope to the region’s previous 100-year drought, which hit the Amazon in 2005, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research. Severe fires burned throughout the Amazon in both 2005 and 2010, leading to declarations of states of emergencies.
Causes of the great 2010 Amazon drought
During the 20th Century, drought was a frequent visitor to the Amazon, with significant droughts occurring an average of once every twelve years. These droughts typically occurred during El Niño years, when the unusually warm waters present along the Pacific coast of South America altered rainfall patterns. But 2010 was a La Niña year. The 100-year drought of 2005 occurred in an El Niño-neutral year. Subsequent analysis of the 2005 drought revealed that it was unlike previous El Niño-driven droughts, and instead was caused by record warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic (Phillips et al., 2009.) These warm ocean waters affected the southern 2/3 of the Amazon though reduced precipitation and higher than average temperatures. Very similar record Atlantic sea surface temperatures were observed in 2010, and likely were the dominant cause for the 2010 drought.
The source article Amazon rainforest recovering from its second 100-year drought in 5 years was published December 4, 2010 by Weather Underground: Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog .