By: Rahima Tufail
Summary: The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest. It is home to millions of people, and millions of species of flora and fauna. This rainforest helps regulate the earth’s temperature, and cools the planet by absorbing millions of tons of carbon annually. During the dry season of July to October, the Amazon experiences forest fires. They can be caused natural events, like lightning, or are manmade. Fire activity changes every year. The number of 2019 fires is the highest since 2010. Furthermore in 2019 there was an increase of the number of large fires near major roads. This was believed to be caused by people clearing out land for things like farming, or logging more so than caused by drought. 2019 has also had an increase in deforestation compared to 2018 according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. A major cause of deforestation in Brazil is cattle ranching. Cattle ranchers burn the rainforest land in order to make room for pasture. Farmers also start fires in the dry season- when the plants and trees are easier to burn- after a part of the forest gets cleared. The ash of the vegetation is used as fertilizer for crops to be grown, like soybeans. These fires destroy habitats, ecosystems, and homes of the indigenous people who live in the rainforest. The fires release smoke, carbon dioxide and toxic carbon monoxide into the air that spread beyond the Amazon and into the atmosphere. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is blamed for encouraging land clearing activities, as well as slashing funding for environmental protection. The budget cuts left on Brazil’s environmental agency make it very difficult for them to cover the costs of resources to monitor and protect the rainforest, as well as to fine and catch those who start fires illegally.
Why we should care? The Amazon rainforest has a huge role in slowing down global warming by absorbing tons of carbon dioxide. When trees and plants burn, the carbon dioxide stored in them is immediately released into the atmosphere.
Example News Article:
This news article gives a rundown on important information related to the Amazon fires. It gives graphical representation of data, such as total number of fires since 1998 to show that previous years in the 2000’s have had higher number of fires. This articles also brings up how politics plays a role in these fires, stating that Brazil’s president refused aid to combat the fires, and supports clearing of trees. President Bolsonaro took office of January 2019, and the amount of land cleared in July of 2019 was almost 278% higher than amount of land cleared in July of 2018. Deliberate deforestation is seen as the cause of the increase of fires. The land is cleared by logging and also by cutting trees then setting the wood on fire. This article shows how burning of the Amazon is not just a Brazilian issue, but a global one since the smoke affects nearby countries, and the release of the tons of carbon dioxide contributes to global warming.
Science in Action.
Dr. Douglas Morton is Chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA.
Dr. Morton’s research focuses on Amazonian fire dynamics. His work focuses on disturbances, which are natural or unnatural processes that are important to how ecosystems change, like fires or logging. Fires in the Amazon can be caused by disturbances like land clearing and deforestation. Dr. Morton uses satellite records to look at the history of an ecosystem disturbance to understand the interaction between the climate, geography, and human activities and the disturbance rates.
The satellites also can measure the condition of vegetation. This allows him to measure the increase in carbon absorption in areas that were disturbed as they begin to regrow. The Amazon rainforest stores a lot of carbon and cools our planet, so seeing how well the rainforest can absorb carbon again is crucial to understanding how the rainforest can bounce back after a fire.
Using the NASA satellites to track the timing and location of fires, he notes that the 2019 dry season fires seem to be caused by land clearing rather than drought. The satellites also show in 2019 the Brazilian Amazon fires have increased in number and intensity since 2010.