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Amazon rainforest hit by high numbers of forest fires

Record numbers of forest fires have been detected this year in the Amazon rainforest, according to the country’s space research agency.

Heightened fire activity was detected, by NASA satellites, in July and August across the Amazon.

Satellite data from The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil’s space research agency, showed an 84% increase in forest fires when compared to the same period in 2018.

INPE said they had observed more 9,500 forest fires since Thursday (15th August), most of which were located in the Amazon region.

More than 72,000 fires had been detected, by INPE, between January and August. This total was the highest recorded number since the records began in 2013.

In comparison, 40,000 fires were recorded for the same period in 2018, therefore suggesting an increase of 32,000 fires.  

However, NASA reported that satellite observations indicated the total fire activity, within the Amazon basin, was slightly below average in comparison to the previous 15 years. Fire activity in the Amazonas and Rondônia states of Brazil were above average, while below-average activity was shown in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

The Amazon rainforest is 5.5 million square kilometres, making it the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

The rainforest is home to an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem, consisting of around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million forms of insects. Many of which are unique to this specific area of the world.

Indigenous Amerindian tribes also reside within the Amazon, around 400-500 indigenous tribes are thought to live there.

The Amazon rainforest is often known as the ‘lungs of the Earth’ since more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the rich vegetation.

Through the natural process of photosynthesis, whereby the vegetation will take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, the Amazon has been able to buffer the effects of climate change.

The burning now occurring within the rainforest will release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

On Monday, São Paulo saw an hour-long daytime blackout after smoke from the fires were brought over 1,700 miles by strong winds. 

Much of the year forest fires, in the Amazon region, are rare due to the wet weather preventing them from starting and spreading. But when it reaches July and August forest fires become more likely as the dry season arrives.

Many of the fires are suspected to be attributed to the illegal deforesting of land for cattle ranching, whereby fires are deliberately started to clear land.

INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said: "The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”

Links have been made between the recent rise in deforestation and the appointment of the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, in January.

Mr Bolsonaro received criticism over his environmental policies, whereby he vowed to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining- ignoring the international concern over increases in deforestation.

The president criticised the penalties previous governments had implemented, to decrease the deforestation rate.

Recently Bolsonaro fired the director of INPE as he said the director “made up numbers” for the agency’s statistics showing an increase in deforestation levels.

The agency showed an 88% increase in deforestation in June when compared to June last year. INPE said its data is 95% accurate, with other scientific institutions defended the accuracy of INPE’s data.

The forest fires have sparked conversation on social media, with #AmazonRainforest and #PrayforAmazonas trending on Twitter.

WWF tweeted their concern saying: “There was worldwide outcry when the Notre Dame cathedral was on fire. Why is there not the same level of outrage for fires destroying the #AmazonRainforest?”

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