The “lungs of the Earth” are on fire, and consequences have the potential to alter the environment on a global scale.
According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), nearly 73,000 wildfires have been recorded between January and August 2019 in the Amazon. The sudden influx of wildfires is an 83 percent increase over last years figure, which saw only 39,700 fires throughout the entirety of 2018.
These forest fires are so big, their plumes of smoke can be seen from space.
Sentinel satellites provided by the European Union of Earth Observation captured significant amounts of smoke over the Amazon basin and Rondonia states. Senior meteorologist, Eric Holthaus Tweeted: “Smoke from the fires currently burning in the Amazon Rainforest is covering about half of Brazil. We are in a climate emergency”.
The Amazon Rainforest generates around 20 percent of the worlds oxygen supply, and is home to more than 10 percent of the worlds biodiversity. If the forest were to completely disappear, carbon dioxide levels would increase exponentially, agriculture would come to an abrupt halt, and thousands of different species of plant and animal life would cease to exit.
The Brazilian states of Rondonia, Para and Mato Grosso have been deeply effected. The city of Sao Paulo, located 2,700km away from the forest fires, has also felt the ramifications of the continuous blaze. Due to a combination of strong winds and a cold front, the skies of Sao Paulo were blanketed in a thick layer of smoke on Monday afternoon.
Since President Jair Messias Bolsonaro took office in January of 2019, the occurrence of wildfires dramatically increased, making for a taboo affair. Despite international concerns, the president set goals to develop the Amazonian region for mining and farming, meaning large areas would need to be deforested. While wildfires are a natural occurrence and blame cannot be assigned to a single individual, it is believed that a some of these fires have been deliberately started in an effort to illegally clear land for farming and cattle ranching. When asked comment, President Bolsonaro brushed off criticism, saying that it was simply the time of the year for “queimada” which translates to “burnt” in English.
As reported by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the intense fires have led to a worrying spike in both carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Put simply, CO and CO2 are both odorless, colourless, gasses that can be fatal in high concentrations. CO2 is a naturally occurring gas that plant life absorbs during the process of photosynthesis. CO is the byproduct of burning fossil fuels. If these harmful emissions continue to be released into the atmosphere, not only will it aggravate global warming to the point of no return, but the wellbeing of all human, animal and plant life will be at risk.
Due to the shear number of fires, it is extremely difficult to predict the exact date of when the fires started. It’s even harder to predict when they will die down. Dry season usually takes place between June and October, and the wet season runs from December through to May, so we could expect to see the fires raging on for a long while.