- The Brazilian Amazon is burning at a record rate: Brazil has experienced more than 76,000 fires this year, whereas last year’s total was about 40,000. About 10,000 of this year’s fires have started in the past couple of weeks.
- One map shows every fire that has ignited in central South America since August 13.
- In the Amazon, most of the fires were started by farmers and loggers seeking to use land for industrial or agricultural purposes. But once blazes start, hot temperatures and dry conditions because of climate change enable the flames to spread farther and faster.
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Scientists have recorded more than 76,000 fires in Brazil so far this year, but the problem isn’t confined to one country.
Many other parts of South America are burning too.
Global Forest Watch, an organisation sponsored by the World Resources Institute, monitors forests and tracks fires, using satellite data. The group reported more than 109,000 fire alerts in Brazil between August 13 and yesterday, but its map of current blazes (below) shows fires in many other regions as well.
So far this year, Brazil’s neighbour, Bolivia, has experienced more than 17,400 fires. Paraguay, to the south, has had just under 10,000, and Colombia, to the north, 14,000.
While not pictured on the Global Forests Watch map, Venezuela has experienced the second-highest number of fires in 2019: 26,500. That’s one-third of Brazil’s total.
Brazil, meanwhile, has seen more fires in 2019 than in any year since researchers began keeping track in 2013 – and there are still four months in the year to go. Since August 15, more than 9,500 new forest fires have started across Brazil, primarily in the Amazon basin. Year over year, that’s an 83% increase in fires, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported.
The fires in Brazil aren’t natural disasters: Environmentalists and researchers say humans are to blame.
“The important thing to know about the Amazon is that few fires occur there naturally,” Mikaela Weisse, who tracks deforestation and fires for the World Resources Institute,told Vice.
About 99% of Amazon fires start from human actions, “either on purpose or by accident,” Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE),told CNN. Setzer said farmers often set the forest ablaze to clear land for agriculture.
Those fires can then get out of control.
In total, the fires have created a layer of smoke estimated to be 1.2 million square miles wide that can be seen from space. The smoke plumes from blazes in the Amazon have spread far from the state of Amazonas – on Monday, smoke blotted out the sun in São Paulo, a city more than 2,000 miles away.
As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon plays a crucial role in keeping our planet’s carbon-dioxide levels in check. Plants and trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air in the process of photosynthesis. This is why the Amazon, which covers 2.1 million square miles, is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”: The forest produces between 6 and 20% of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.
But when trees burn, they release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and that further fuels climate change.
“The Amazon is incredibly important for our future, for our ability to stave off the worst of climate change,” Christian Poirier, the program director of the nonprofit organisation Amazon Watch, told CNN. “This isn’t hyperbole. We’re looking at untold destruction – not just of the Amazon but for our entire planet.”