Understanding deforestation and its impact on the precipitation patterns of northwestern Belize tropical forests

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Ruffe, Danielle Astrid

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Tropical forest environments in Central America have undergone over 10,000 years of land use change caused by intermittent human occupation periods. The Orange Walk district of northwestern Belize, the area of focus for this study, is located in the Maya Lowlands in the southern Yucatán Peninsula. With the rise of recent large-scale industrialized agriculture, deforestation is rapidly changing environmental dynamics in these tropical forest ecosystems. Research suggests a link between deforested regions and precipitation shifts in regional and local climates. To study these potential impacts, this study analyzes satellite data from Climate Hazards Infrared Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) to assess a 23-year precipitation record (1998 – 2020) and analyze the potential relationship between deforestation and hydroclimate. This thesis generated a Google Earth Engine (GEE) script to acquire annual and seasonal cumulative precipitation averages, as well as derive precipitation rates from Hansen’s Global Forest Change dataset in GEE. To evaluate satellite data accuracy, this project collected data from ground rain gauges in the region to run validation assessments on the satellite dataset. This is the first study to analyze deforestation and precipitation shifts in northwestern Belize, a region in the outer tropics (~17 degrees latitude). This research finds a potential significant correlation between deforestation rate increase and precipitation increase, which may be attributed to the increased heterogenous landscape in the region. The temporal scale and spatial resolution represented some limitations with the research; however, this research is helpful in understanding precipitation shifts in response to local deforestation events.


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