LatestAmazon Under Threat: Climate Change and Deforestation Fueling Fires

Amazon Under Threat: Climate Change and Deforestation Fueling Fires

Record-breaking early-year fires in the Amazon are escalating concerns about an impending worsening of the climate problem because the burning flora is essential for absorbing carbon dioxide that warms the globe. Satellite photographs reveal that the forest is seeing exceptional fires this early in the year, driven by drought, strong winds, and human felling, even though the dry season has not yet reached crucial regions of the Amazon.

According to Sinea do Vale of the Indigenous Council of Roraima, the Brazilian state most severely affected by the historic fires in February, “both traditional and scientific knowledge point to dire times ahead.” Also, “We will keep suffering if emissions do not drop drastically.” 

According to data collected this century by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), fire is currently centred in the northern Amazon. Record numbers of fires were reported in February in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela.

According to MapBiomas, a Brazilian network of scientists, organizations, universities, and technology companies, more than 941 hectares of Brazil’s Amazon burnt in January, more than tripling the damage recorded at this time last year.

In February of this year, INPE documented 3,158 fire incidents in Brazil’s Amazon, surpassing the previous high of 1,761 from 2007. 

Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service data spanning 22 years shows that the Amazon’s carbon emissions hit a record high for that month.

Ane Alencar, a researcher at the IPAM Amazonia Environmental Institute, stated, “What we are seeing right now is a result of 2023’s drought. The landscape has become extremely inflammable, so that any spark may become a blazing fire.”

Only a small portion of the yearly fires in the Amazon usually caused by fires in January and February.

However, scientists worry that this year’s early record may be a warning of a wider disaster to come as decades of human activity combined with the continuous, extreme drought caused by the El Nino climate pattern, will transform forest to fuel.

The highly flammable grass that is allowed to grow after a fire “generates even more catastrophic fires over the next years,” according to Leonardo Maracahipes-Santos of IPAM.

“Especially if combined with severe drought,” he continued, looking out from a 36-meter tower installed by IPAM to study the forest’s transformation in Querencia, southern Amazon. 

When viewed from above, soy fields break up the Amazon’s rolling expanse as it approaches the horizon. Maracahipes-Santos gestures to a fire scar on a nearby tree behind a canopy of greenery.

“Trees embraced by flames, which then combine to form a triangle on the other side. “This opening makes the tree more vulnerable, even if it doesn’t die right away,” he stated.

The National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters in Brazil’s Liana Anderson stated that when there are more dead trees, the earth gets drier and more flammable.

Furthermore, she claimed that in conflict zones where farmers, loggers, and hunters are battling for territory, fires are “increasingly used as a weapon against traditional populations”. 

The months of July through are November usually the worst for fires since that’s when the eastern and southern edges of the forest are the driest, while the northern Amazon soaked with rain.

Rainforest fires require intentional ignition because they do not spontaneously start, even in exceptionally dry seasons. Farmers and land grabbers burn the trees over time to repurpose the areas, primarily for cattle ranching.

Manoela Machado, a researcher at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the United States, claims that since 2019, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has increased significantly.

Deforestation is still widespread, she noted, even though rates have been dropping, particularly in the eastern and southern margins.

“If there is deforestation, there will be fire,” she stated.

The amount of rain expected in the southern and eastern Amazon in the upcoming months and its potential to replenish the soil and rivers of the forest remains a significant unknown. 

Brazil’s National Water Agency reported this week that important Amazon rivers were below average for the month and forecasted below-average rainfall for the eastern Amazon and portions of its southern margins from March to May.

“Not enough rain is falling,” expressed Alencar from IPAM.

According to scientists, there is a greater chance of extreme events like floods and droughts due to climate change.

Simultaneously, the forest is becoming less resilient as huge tracts of it disappear due to fire and deforestation.

Scientists worry that this combination would cause the forest to reach a point beyond which it can recover. 

Instead of absorbing planet-heating carbon, the forest would die out, becoming a net carbon emitter and accelerating climate change — a shift already detected in some areas.

Deforestation rates have dropped in the forest since 2023, when President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva came to power vowing to restore environmental protections. But the dangers remain high.

“Climate is increasingly dryer and warmer, providing more dry fuel, and there is a greater motivation to burn. This cycle will not end if there is not a stop to deforestation,” said Manoela Machado, from the Woodwell Center.

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