By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – NASA released several satellite images this week showing a dense layer of smoke over the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Amazonas. According to the organization, the gray smoke on the map is a result of the burning that has hit the Amazon region since late July.
From January to August the fires in the Brazilian Amazon doubled compared to the same period last year. This year more than 53,000 outbreaks were registered in the north of the country. In 2018, the number was 26,000 according to Barzil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
In the state of Rondônia, the number of fires soared 190 percent. The state has been covered by smoke since early August, and the pollution threatens the health of the population.
Brazil as a whole has had more than 72,000 fire outbreaks so far this year, an 84 increase increase on the same period in 2018, according to the INPE. More than half of them were in the Amazon.
According to international press, there was a sharp spike in deforestation during July, which has been followed by extensive burning in August. Local newspapers say farmers in some regions are organizing “fire days” to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the authorities.
The right-wing Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon earlier in the week outraging international critics and conservation groups.
Last month, he accused INPE’s director of lying about the scale of deforestation there. It came after the organization published data showing an 88 percent increase in deforestation in the Amazon in June compared with the same month a year ago.
At the presidential residence on Thursday Bolsonaro said Brazil is not equipped to fight the fires. “The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?,” he asked reporters. “We do not have the resources for that.”
The Amazon covers 2.12 million square miles, and absorbs a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon that global forests remove from the atmosphere each year. However, the ability of the rainforest to pull in more carbon than it releases is diminishing, and the ongoing fires will further limit its function as a carbon reducer.
The World Wildlife Fund warned that the fires and deforestation of the Amazon could turn this vital resource into a “savanna-like” region where animals and plants cannot thrive. “While there is still debate among scientists about this concept, some climate-simulation vegetation models predict that such a die-back could occur by the end of this century,” it noted.
“[H]owever, this timeframe may be optimistic as these models do not include land-use change or the synergistic effects of deforestation and regional climate change.”
“If these factors were taken into account, we could face a dire scenario in which current trends in livestock, agriculture, logging expansion, fire and drought could destroy or severely damage 55 percent of the Amazon rainforest by the year 2030.”
This is bad news for global sea level rise, as it is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms.