Environment

Satellite data reveals dramatic increase in Amazon rain forest fires

Satellite data reveals dramati...
An animation made from data captured by the Sentinel-2 mission showing fires on the border between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay
An animation made from data captured by the Sentinel-2 mission showing fires on the border between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay
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The satellite data shows almost four times the amount of fires ravaging the rain forest compared to the same period in 2018
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The satellite data shows almost four times the amount of fires ravaging the rain forest compared to the same period in 2018
An orbital view of the fires and smoke plumes hanging over the Amazon rain forest, captured on August 21, 2019
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An orbital view of the fires and smoke plumes hanging over the Amazon rain forest, captured on August 21, 2019
An animation made from data captured by the Sentinel-2 mission showing fires on the border between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay
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An animation made from data captured by the Sentinel-2 mission showing fires on the border between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay

Data collected by ESA’s Copernicus satellites has highlighted an almost fourfold increase in the number of fires devastating the Amazon rain forest in August this year, as compared to the same period in 2018. The fires have destroyed the habitats of countless species, and released massive amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

The Amazon rain forest spans over 5.5 million sq km (2.1 million sq mi), and spreads across the borders of several South American countries, making it the largest rain forest on Earth. It is a place of astounding ecological diversity, and plays host to countless species of all shapes and sizes that have evolved to thrive in their given environment, whether it be at the top of the forest canopy, or deep beneath the ground amongst the branching roots.

This sprawling leafy realm draws millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere each year, replacing it with oxygen via photosynthesis.

In recent decades, rampant deforestation has led to the destruction of vast swathes of the Amazon rain forest. This human interference, in conjunction with anthropogenic-led climate change, is thought to have made the region more susceptible to the fires that occur naturally during Brazil’s dry season, which starts in July each year and runs through to October.

The satellite data shows almost four times the amount of fires ravaging the rain forest compared to the same period in 2018
The satellite data shows almost four times the amount of fires ravaging the rain forest compared to the same period in 2018

Satellite data collected by the ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites in the month of August has highlighted a dramatic increase in the amount of fires breaking out in the rain forest.

Between August 1st and 24th, the sensors mounted on the orbiting satellites detected a staggering 3,951 fires scouring the Amazon. This is an almost fourfold increase compared to the same period in 2018, during which 1,118 fires were recorded.

“By processing 249 images for August 2018 and 275 images for August 2019, we are able to see the incredible number of fires burning in the Amazon,” says ESA’s Olivier Arino. “This was achieved by the World Fire Atlas night time algorithm, in order to avoid any possible false alarms with the daytime algorithm.”

It is estimated that 228 megatonnes of carbon dioxide has been released by the fires into the atmosphere. Powerful winds are reported to have blown the resulting smoke thousands of miles to the Atlantic coast.

In the wake of the crisis, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service has been activated, under which satellite imagery and geospatial data is provided free of charge to help inform authorities working to monitor and help tackle the disaster.

Source: European Space Agency

5 comments
Quercus
How strange. Recently NASA's satellites apparently revealed fewer fires compared with previous years. Now ESA's satellite claims there are four times as many as last year. Somebody ain't telling the truth... it would seem.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The rain forest only removes CO2 insofar as the mass of wood is increased.
ljaques
Many of the fires are slash and burn acres, not forest fires. Others are grass burns to renew growth. 3 of the most viral photos online are fakes. When even Mother Jones expose the fakes, you know you've been had. Some of those supposed satellite photos are either fakes or tweaked photos (Photoshopped). https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/08/amazon-viral-fire-photos-fake-misleading-leonardo-dicaprio/
Christian Lassen
2 data points (Aug 2018, and Aug 2019) is a really small sample size.
Kwok Chan
Amazon fire might be causing Amazon fires ?? https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nicolenguyen/gold-mining-amazon-rainforest