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The Amazon Is Burning

Fires AmazonNASA Earth ObservatorySmoke from a forest fire in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Save the rain forest” is a mantra we’ve all grown up with, and for good reason.

About 17% of the Amazon rain forest has been lost in the last 50 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. While the annual rate of deforestation has slowed in recent years, cattle ranching and other forms of agriculture remain serious threats to the rain forest.

But another, less talked-about issue the rain forest faces, is the threat of wildfires. While fires are a natural part of many forest life cycles, drier years can lead to particularly severe fire seasons that can damage the forests and threaten the wildlife that lives there. Additionally, human activities related to deforestation and logging can also set destructive fires in the rain forest.

A stunning data visualisation from InfoAmazonia shows where forest fires have occurred in the Amazon rain forest between January 2012 and December 2014 using satellite data collected by NASA.

While the full visualisation shows a complete timelapse over the past two years, the clip below shows fires in January and February of 2014. The small red and yellow dots popping up show where fires cropped up during this time, with the red dots representing any fires hotter than 116 degrees Fahrenheit and the yellow dots representing particularly high-intensity fires. The static orange and yellow patches on the map show how frequently fires occur — the brighter the yellow, the more frequent the fires.

Typically, this time of the year is relatively quiet with few fires, as you can see in the graphic.

Amazon Forest Fires 3InfoAmazonia.org

This clip is from later in the year, starting in May 2014. As the region approaches the hot summer season, forest fires start to become a bit more common.

Amazon Forest Fire 2InfoAmazonia.org

Peak season for forest fires is in September, according to NASA. The gif below, which shows forest fires in August and September 2014, clearly demonstrates how widespread the fires can become during this part of the season.

Amazon Fire 1InfoAmazonia.org

According to NASA, years with less rainfall mean the region becomes less humid, making forest vegetation drier and more likely to burn. Aside from the loss of biodiversity that can occur as a result of a severe fire, burning fires can release large amounts of climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere — so monitoring the fires and keeping them under control is a big concern for forest managers.

View the complete two-year data visualisation at InfoAmazonia’s website.

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