Amazon rainforest under threat from record wildfires in Brazil

April 3, 2024

Record wildfires hit Brazil’s Amazon

The Amazon rainforest, a critical component of the world’s ecosystem, is currently facing an unprecedented threat from wildfires, particularly in the Roraima State of northern Brazil.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the frequency of fires in February was over five times the monthly average, with the fires persisting into March.

Elevated temperatures, historic drought, and deforestation have been identified as the primary contributors to this crisis.

Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, expressed grave concern, stating: “We are losing the Amazon rainforest.

These changes in the climate right now provoked by El Niño makes this forest fire season even worse than we are used to seeing in the forest.”

Climate change exacerbates wildfire risk

The situation in the Amazon is a stark illustration of how climate change can amplify the risk and severity of wildfires.

The Amazon rainforest, known for its high humidity levels, is now experiencing fires supercharged by a combination of elevated temperatures, severe drought, and deforestation.

Despite efforts by Brazil’s current government to reduce deforestation rates by over 20%, the damage inflicted by previous years’ deforestation practices and a particularly hot and dry 2023 have left the rainforest highly vulnerable.

Ane Alencar, the science director for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, highlighted the broader regional impact noting that in Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, you also see very high fire activities, and that this is another kind of proof that the climate is playing a very important role in that.

The environmental impact of Amazon wildfires

The Amazon rainforest is one of the planet’s largest carbon sinks, capable of storing over 150 billion metric tonnes of carbon.

This capacity is equivalent to approximately 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the abnormal rise in temperatures has stressed the rainforest’s ecosystem, leading to increased vulnerability to wildfires.

The first thing that the trees do is shed their leaves creating fuel material for the fire, explained Alencar.

This shedding, coupled with the opening of the canopy, facilitates the exchange of dry and moist air, making the forest’s internal microclimate conditions more susceptible to burning.

Efforts to protect the Amazon

Despite the dire situation, there are ongoing efforts to protect the Amazon and combat illegal deforestation.

Luciana Gatti, a greenhouse gas specialist with the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, noted some areas of the Amazon are already 40% deforested.

However, international investments, such as the recent 1 billion euro fund announced by France and Brazil, aim to bolster protection efforts.

Marcio Astrini underscored the importance of international pressure and surveillance in making a difference in forest protection efforts in Brazil.

FSJA Comment

The escalating wildfires in the Amazon rainforest underscore the urgent need for global action against climate change.

As one of the world’s most vital ecological assets, the Amazon plays a crucial role in carbon storage, biodiversity, and influencing global weather patterns.

The combination of natural phenomena like El Niño and human activities such as deforestation has pushed the Amazon to a tipping point.

This situation calls for enhanced international cooperation, effective policy implementation, and increased investment in forest protection to mitigate the impacts of climate change and preserve the rainforest for future generations.

The recent initiatives by governments and organizations are steps in the right direction, but the scale of the challenge requires sustained and collective efforts from the global community.

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