News | Environment
17 Sep 2019 22:44
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  •   Home > News > Environment

    Record wildfires raging through the Amazon can now be seen from space

    Swathes of Brazil, including some of its biggest cities, have been covered in thick smoke as wildfires continue to ravage the world's largest tropical rainforest.

    New satellite data has captured giant rivers of smoke billowing across swathes of Brazil and other parts of South America as intense wildfires continue to ravage the Amazon rainforest.

    The forest fires have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 detected so far by the Brazilian Government's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and come as NASA scientists flag alarm over intense fires burning in the Arctic Circle.

    The surge marks an 83 per cent increase over the same period in 2018, INPE said, and is the highest since records began in 2013.

    Since last Thursday, the space agency said satellite images spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world's largest tropical forest — a habitat seen as vital to countering global warming.

    "One of the concerns with fires on this scale in the Amazon is the impact on the carbon cycle and whether it is turning those regions of the Amazon into a net source of CO2 due to the loss of rainforest and change in vegetation," Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), told the ABC.

    Strong winds drove thick layers of smoke more than 2,700 kilometres into Sao Paulo on Monday, blanketing the city in an eerie darkness in the mid-afternoon.

    The daytime blackout deepened concerns from thousands of people for the welfare of the Amazon rainforest, with the hashtag #prayforamazonia referred to more than 150,000 times on Twitter.

    With the fires raging for more than three weeks now, concerns are growing over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's controversial environmental policy and his firing of INPE director Ricardo Galvao several weeks ago, reportedly amid rows over deforestation data it captured.

    The unprecedented surge in wildfires has occurred since Mr Bolsonaro took office in January, vowing to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining and ignoring international concern over increased deforestation.

    Mr Bolsonaro has called the deforestation data "lies".

    While wildfires are common in the dry season, they are also deliberately set by loggers and farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching, and conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro has only encouraged this activity.

    Asked about the spread of uncontrolled fires, Mr Bolsonaro brushed off criticism, saying it was the time of the year of the "queimada" or burn, when farmers use fire to clear land.


    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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