Brazil grapples with escalating Amazon fires amid severe drought

April 30, 2024

Record-high fires in the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is facing an unprecedented increase in fire outbreaks, significantly affecting its primary forests.

In 2023, the number of fires in these ancient woodlands soared by 152%, rising from 13,477 in 2022 to 34,012, according to a study published in Global Change Biology.

These fires, primarily driven by severe drought conditions exacerbated by climate change and phenomena like El Niño, pose a severe threat to the biome’s ecological stability.

The drivers behind the devastation

The fires are predominantly occurring in mature forest areas that are not adapted to frequent fires, leading to considerable degradation.

Luiz Eduardo Oliveira e Cruz de Aragão, a leading researcher and head of the Earth Observation and Geoinformatics Division at Brazil’s INPE, emphasized the gravity of the situation: “Fires in mature forests can have serious consequences for the future of the Amazon,” said Aragão.

“Fire degradation deals silent damage. While deforestation monitored daily by INPE finds a voice in the media, degradation by fire is little publicized.”

The impact of climate on fire prevalence

Despite a 22% reduction in deforestation and a 16% decrease in total fire counts in Brazil last year, the situation remains dire.

The states of Amazonas and Pará have experienced significant increases in fire incidents due to droughts.

In October 2023, Pará recorded 11,378 fires, marking a 52% increase from the previous year and the highest number for that month since 2008.

Neighboring Amazonas also reported record-breaking figures, with 3,858 fires in October, the highest ever for the month since 1998.

New year, new flames

The trend continues in 2024, with Brazil’s Amazon registering 7,860 fires in the first quarter alone, the most since 2016.

Roraima, another Brazilian state, has seen a spike in fire outbreaks this year, with February marking an all-time high of 2,057 incidents.

These fires predominantly affect Indigenous territories, worsening an already critical humanitarian crisis.

Transforming the ecosystem

Researchers stress that forest fires, which are usually caused by uncontrolled small fires related to agricultural practices, pose the most substantial threat to the Amazon.

These fires can lead to long-term ecological shifts, making the forest more susceptible to future fires.

Bernardo Flores, a scientist specializing in ecosystem resilience, noted: “Forest fires are the most concerning fire type because they spread across standing forest, causing degradation that may compromise burnt forests persistently.”

FSJA Comment

The ongoing crisis in the Amazon highlights the urgent need for concerted efforts to manage and mitigate forest fires.

Increased surveillance, fire brigade expansion, and better fire prediction systems are essential to curb the spread of fires and protect the Amazon’s biodiversity and climate regulation capabilities.

Such measures are crucial not only for the health of the Amazon but also for the global ecological balance.

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