South America ablaze: a record-breaking fire season amid environmental challenges

Brazil burns at unsustainable rates: last month, the South American country witnessed a 248% increase in fires compared to the previous year

As South America approaches the peak of its fire season in the tropical regions, the Amazon has already hit a disturbing milestone. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has been diligently tracking the emissions from these blazes, revealing an alarming situation.

Brazil leads in fires despite deforestation drop

Brazil stands out for the intensity and scale of its fires, even as it has seen a surprising 50% reduction in deforestation rates in 2023, thanks to policies implemented by President Lula. The state of Roraima, in particular, has witnessed fires of such magnitude that they have led to the highest carbon emissions recorded for the entire country in February since 2003.

MapBiomas Fogo, a platform monitoring the South American territories ravaged by fires, paints a grim picture: January 2024 saw a 248% increase in fires in Brazil compared to January of the previous year. Last month, flames consumed 1.03 million hectares (compared to 287,000 hectares in 2023), 91% of which was Amazon forest, the biome most affected.

“El Niño played a crucial role in the increase of fires in the Amazon by raising temperatures and drying out the region, creating favorable conditions for the spread of flames. If not for the more than 50% reduction in deforestation, we would definitely have seen a much larger area affected by fires in the region,” notes Ane Alencar, the scientific director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and coordinator of MapBiomas Fogo.

Brazil's fire crisis



Fires spread beyond Brazil

The situation is hardly better in neighboring territories. Countries like Venezuela and Bolivia have also recorded their highest emissions since 2003 for this period.

The most significant increase in fires occurred in the latter half of February, as reported by the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS). The most affected regions were northeastern Venezuela, the Brazilian state of Roraima, and Colombia.

Fire in Brazil january 2024


Carbon emissions from fires in Brazil and Venezuela during February (up to the 27th) have been the highest for the month in the GFAS dataset, which spans from 2003 to the present, with emissions of 4.1 and 5.2 megatonnes of carbon respectively. Bolivia also saw record carbon emissions, amounting to 0.3 megatonnes.

Experts from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service highlight this as a worrying phenomenon, especially since the peak season for wildfires in Bolivia and the Amazon region typically occurs in September and October.

Drought conditions in many parts of South America have contributed to the increased risk of fires, leading to the blazes observed.

“Our forecasts on atmospheric composition also show that smoke transport is covering a wide area of the region, causing an increase in air pollution in populated areas. We have monitored an increase in the number of fires and the emissions associated with them during the peak of the fire season in the tropical regions of South America, and further south in Bolivia, in addition to the widely reported fires in Chile and Argentina at the beginning of February,” comments Mark Parrington, Senior Scientist at CAMS.

Sources: Copernicus/ MapBiomas Fogo

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