Intra-annual relationship between precipitation and forest disturbance in the African rainforest

Yaqing Gou, Johannes Balling, Veronique De Sy, Martin Herold, Wanda De Keersmaecker, Bart Slagter, Adugna Mullissa, Xiaocheng Shang, Johannes Reiche

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Analysis of forest disturbance patterns in relation to precipitation seasonality is important for understanding African tropical forest dynamics under changing climate conditions and different levels of human activities. Newly available radar-based forest disturbance information now enables an investigation of the intra-annual relationship between precipitation and forest disturbance in a spatially and temporally explicit manner, especially in the tropics, where frequent cloud cover hinders the use of optical-based remote sensing products. In this study, we applied cross-correlation on monthly precipitation and forest disturbance time series for 2019 and 2020 at a 0.5° grid in the African rainforest. We used the magnitude of the correlation and time lag to assess the intra-annual relationship between precipitation and forest disturbance, and introduced accessibility proxies to analyse the spatial variation of the relationship. Results revealed that a significant negative correlation between forest disturbance and precipitation dominates the study region. We found that significant negative correlations appear on average closer to settlements with overall smaller variations in travel time to settlements compared to grid cells with non-significant and significant positive correlation. The magnitude of the negative correlation increases as the travel time to settlements increases, implying that forest disturbances in less accessible areas are more affected by precipitation seasonality and that in particular human-induced disturbance activities are predominantly carried out in the drier months. Few areas showed a significant positive correlation, mainly resulting from natural causes such as flooding. These new insights in the interaction between forest disturbance, precipitation and accessibility provide a step forward in understanding the complex interactions that underlie the complexity of forest loss patterns that we can increasingly capture with Earth Observation approaches. As such, they can support forest conservation and management in coping with climate change induced changes of precipitation patterns in African rainforest countries.
Original languageEnglish
Article number044044
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
Early online date25 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • African rainforest
  • Letter
  • Sentinel-1
  • forest disturbance seasonality
  • precipitation seasonality


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