Brazil sees 23% of its land burned over 40 years, study reveals

June 26, 2024

New study shows widespread fires in Brazil over nearly four decades

Nearly 200 million hectares of land in Brazil have burned at least once between 1985 and 2023, according to a recent study by MapBiomas Fogo as reported by Brazil Reports.

This equates to nearly 23% of Brazil’s territory.

The majority of these fires occurred on lands with native vegetation (68.4%), while 31.6% happened on pastures and agricultural lands.

The study highlights that the Cerrado and Amazon biomes were the most affected, accounting for about 86% of the total burned area.

The Cerrado saw 88.5 million hectares burned, representing 44% of its territory, while the Amazon experienced 82.7 million hectares burned, affecting 19.6% of its area.

Impact on Brazil’s major biomes

MapBiomas Fogo’s study reveals that the Cerrado, a tropical savanna in Eastern Brazil, and the Amazon rainforest have faced significant fire damage over the last four decades.

Vera Arruda, coordinator of MapBiomas Fogo, noted: “The Cerrado has suffered from high deforestation rates, resulting in increased fires and the risk of uncontrolled wildfires.”

Arruda explained that although fire is a natural part of the Cerrado’s ecosystem, the increased frequency and intensity of fires are damaging the vegetation beyond its capacity to recover.

In contrast, the Amazon, which is not naturally adapted to fires, is seeing its biodiversity threatened due to fires mainly caused by deforestation and agricultural practices.

Seasonal and regional fire patterns

The study also examined fire patterns across other Brazilian biomes.

The Atlantic Forest saw 6.8% of its territory burned, the Pantanal 59.2%, the Caatinga 12.7%, and the Pampa 2.7%.

Annually, an average of 18.3 million hectares, or 2.2% of Brazil’s land, is burned, with the majority of fires occurring in the driest season from July to October.

MapBiomas highlighted that this data helps authorities understand historical fire patterns, identify high-risk areas, and improve strategies to combat fires.

Ane Alencar, another coordinator at MapBiomas, emphasized the role of human activity in causing these fires, especially during the dry periods of August and September when natural causes like lightning are less likely.

Human influence on fire occurrences

Through satellite imagery, MapBiomas researchers analyze the extent and patterns of burned areas but face limitations in determining the exact causes of fires.

Despite this, Alencar concluded: “We can infer that the vast majority of fires are caused or initiated by human activity.”

She pointed out that the characteristics of most fires suggest human origin, especially since they primarily occur during dry periods when natural fire causes are minimal.

This observation underlines the importance of addressing human-induced fire risks to protect Brazil’s biomes.

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