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Deforestation-induced warming over tropical mountain regions regulated by elevation


Agriculture is expanding in tropical mountainous areas, yet its climatic effect is poorly understood. Here, we investigate how elevation regulates the biophysical climate impacts of deforestation over tropical mountainous areas by integrating satellite-observed forest cover changes into a high-resolution land–atmosphere coupled model. We show that recent forest conversion between 2000 and 2014 increased the regional warming by 0.022 ± 0.002 °C in the Southeast Asian Massif, 0.010 ± 0.007 °C in the Barisan Mountains (Maritime Southeast Asia), 0.042 ± 0.010 °C in the Serra da Espinhaço (South America) and 0.047 ± 0.008 °C in the Albertine Rift mountains (Africa) during the local dry season. The deforestation-driven local temperature anomaly can reach up to 2 °C where forest conversion is extensive. The warming from mountain deforestation depends on elevation, through the intertwined and opposing effects of increased albedo causing cooling and decreased evapotranspiration causing warming. As the elevation increases, the albedo effect increases in importance and the warming effect decreases, analogous to previously highlighted decreases of deforestation-induced warming with increasing latitude. As most new croplands are encroaching lands at low to moderate elevations, deforestation produces higher warming from suppressed evapotranspiration. Impacts of this additional warming on crop yields, land degradation and biodiversity of nearby intact ecosystems should be incorporated into future assessments.

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Fig. 1: Simulated temperature change resulting from deforestation in tropical mountains.
Fig. 2: Temperature change versus percentage of forest loss for 2000–2014 at the grid level.
Fig. 3: Regulation by elevation of the deforestation-induced warming over mountains.
Fig. 4: Mechanisms causing the elevation regulation of the deforestation-driven warming effect in SE1.

Data availability

Data on satellite-observed high-resolution forest cover change in the twenty-first century are available at GSOD surface air temperature data are available at The ERA5 reanalysis product is available at The FNL reanalysis product is available at All of the datasets are also available on request from Z.Z.

Code availability

We used the programmes MATLAB (R2014a) and ArcGIS (10.4) to generate all of the results. Analysis scripts are available at


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This study was supported by Lamsam-Thailand Sustain Development (B0891), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42071022, 42001321), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2020M672693), the start-up fund provided by the Southern University of Science and Technology (29/Y01296122) and the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20060401). P.C. acknowledges support from the European Research Council Synergy project SyG-2013-610028 IMBALANCE-P and the ANR CLAND Convergence Institute. D.C. was supported by Swedish BECC and MERGE. We thank Della Research Computing at Princeton University and the Taiyi Supercomputer at the Southern University of Science and Technology for providing computing resources. We sincerely appreciate D. S. Wilcove for constructive comments on this paper.

Author information




Z.Z. designed the research and wrote the draft. Z.Z. and D.W. performed the analysis. Z.Z., D.W., L.Y. and M.L. performed the numerical simulations. All of the authors contributed to interpretation of the results and writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zhenzhong Zeng.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editors: Tamara Goldin; Xujia Jiang.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–17 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Zeng, Z., Wang, D., Yang, L. et al. Deforestation-induced warming over tropical mountain regions regulated by elevation. Nat. Geosci. 14, 23–29 (2021).

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