Brazil gains 1.7 million hectares of water by 2022, but continues to dry up

Pantanal continues as the biome with the largest reduction in water surface area

Brazil is drying up: in 30 years, the country lost 1.5 million hectares of water surface. But 2022 brought some relief: data from MapBiomas Água show that last year the water surface area in the country was 1.5% above the average of the historical series that began in 1985, occupying 18.22 million hectares, or 2% of the national territory. There was a recovery of 1.7 million hectares (10%) in relation to 2021, the year with the smallest area in the historical series. Last year was the first, since 2013, in which the water surface in Brazil exceeded the barrier of 16 million hectares. In all, the country still has around 6% of the surface area and 12% of the volume of all fresh water on the planet.

In 2022, the annual water surface of the Pantanal increased for the first time since 2018. Despite this, the biome is still experiencing a dry period: the difference in water surface area with the average of the historical series is 60.1% . The Pampa also recorded a drop of -1.7% compared to the average, reaching the smallest water surface area of the entire historical series. All the other biomes gained water surface area in 2022: Cerrado (+11.1%), Amazon (+6.2%), Caatinga (+4.9%) and Atlantic Forest (+1.9%). Among the states, Mato Grosso (-48%), Mato Grosso do Sul (-23%) and Paraíba (-12%) also go against the gain in water surface area recorded in most states in 2022.

>> Access the main water surface data for Brazil 1985-2022

The water surface in official reservoirs (monitored by the National Water Agency, ANA) in 2022 was also the largest in the last ten years: 3,184,448 ha, 12% more than the average of the historical series. They account for 22% of Brazil's water surface area; the other 78% are rivers and lakes and small dams.

"Despite the sign of recovery that 2022 represented, the historical series points to a predominant trend of reduction of water surface in Brazil," warns Carlos Souza, MapBiomas mapping coordinator. "All the driest years in the MapBiomas historical series occurred in this and the last decade. The interval between 2013 and 2021 encompasses the 10 years with less water surface, which makes this last decade the most critical of the historical series," he highlights.

All biomes lost water surface area between 1985 and 2022, especially the Pantanal, where the retraction was 81.7%. In second place comes the Caatinga, which is already the driest biome in the country and which lost almost a fifth of its water surface (19.1%). The Atlantic Forest (-5.7%), Amazon (-5.5%), Pampa (-3.6%) and Cerrado (-2.6%) also became drier. The reduction in the Pantanal made Mato Grosso do Sul the leader among the states with the greatest loss of water surface area. The retraction of water surface area was 781,691 hectares, or 57%.

More than two thirds (70%) of the Brazilian municipalities have had a reduction of water surface area in the last three decades. The municipalities with the highest percentages of reduction are Corumbá (MS), Cáceres (MT), Poconé (MT), Aquidauana (MS) and Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade (MT).

The trend of water surface loss was noted in the majority of the country's basins and hydrographic regions. Almost three out of four sub-basins (71%) have lost water surface area in the last three decades. And even with the overall increase in the country's water surface area by 2022, a third (33%) of them were below the historical average last year. In some cases, like the Araguaia-Tocantins basin, the gain in water surface is associated with hydroelectric plants.

The hydrographic regions that lost the most water surface area in the MapBiomas historical series were Paraguay (-591,000 hectares), South Atlantic (-21,400 hectares) and Eastern Northeast Atlantic (-4,800 hectares). The Eastern Northeast Atlantic (+65.8 thousand hectares), São Francisco (+61.8 thousand hectares) and Paraná (+39 thousand hectares) basins had water surface area gains.

After the year 2000 there is greater intra-annual variability. From 2017 to 2020, for example, seven out of every 12 months of the year were below the annual average. Again, 2022 was an exception: every month last year had an increase in water surface area compared to 2021, on average 10%. The months from December to July remained above the historical monthly average, while the period from August to November was below.

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