New images taken from space provide a shocking new perspective on the current crisis in the Amazon rainforest, where a record number of fires have led to widespread international concern.
As of Thursday, August 22, satellite data collected by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) showed a total of around 75,000 fires across the Amazon since the start of the year – a rise of 84 percent on the same period in 2018. As if those figures were not alarming enough, new visual evidence released by NASA and the NOAA really brings home the scale of the emergency.
Taken from the Suomi NPP satellite on August 20, this image reveals the extent of the smoke across the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia. A day earlier, enormous clouds of black smoke had descended upon the city of São Paulo, some 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) from the fires, plunging the metropolis into darkness in the middle of the afternoon.
The NASA Worldview instrument provides another chilling representation of the extent of the blazes, with each red dot in the above image representing a fire or a “thermal anomaly”.
Forest fires are not uncommon in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October, and often begins naturally. However, increasing human activity in the region is leading to an escalation of the problem as burning is seen as the most effective way of clearing land for agriculture.
Yet this year’s infernos are unprecedented, and environmentalists are placing the blame squarely at the feet of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who has removed restrictions on illegal deforestation and encouraged farmers and loggers to clear the land.
Bolsonaro has responded to these claims with accusations of his own, saying that left-wing environmentalists and NGOs have been deliberately starting the fires in order to embarrass him and his government, after funding for conservation was cut. He is yet to present any evidence to back up these claims.
Alarmingly, the Brazilian government says it lacks the resources to tackle the blazes, leading to fears that the world's largest rainforest – which produces around 20 percent of the planet's oxygen – could suffer significant damage before the dry season is over.