NASA: Amazon Wildfires Slightly Below Average Rates

  • Date: 23/08/19
  • Robert Walker, Science 2.0

“As of August 16, 2019, satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years.”

NASA’s caption: “As of August 16, 2019, satellite observations indicated that total fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average in comparison to the past 15 years. Though activity has been above average in Amazonas and to a lesser extent in Rondônia, it has been below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to the Global Fire Emissions Database”

Fires in Brazil

Short summary: we have had wild fires for many years now in the Amazon, even in the tropical rainforest – mainly started by humans for forest clearing and ranching. It is not enough to impact significantly on the Paris agreement pledges yet, though it is important in the long term if this continues for decades. This image is being shared even in usually reputable media with captions such as National Geographic’s “The Amazon is burning at record rates – and deforestation is to blame”. Similarly, the BBC is reporting it as a “record”.

But is it? You would not guess from these headlines that NASA’s description for the original photo says that it is burning at less than average rates. Bit of a big difference there. They mention this in the details of the stories but a fair bit down the page.

The image shows smoke from fires in the Amazon region on 13th August 2019. These are not necessarily all forest fires. Some of these will be fires in pasture to stimulate new growth for the cattle.

So, go to the Global Fire Emissions Database. and this is what you see in the “Totals” section :

The green line for 2019 there is a bit hard to make out, so here is a zoom in, as you can see it is way below the top line which is for 2005, with only a few data points, and is also below the 2003 line.

As the NASA page says, the Amazonas region has seen more fires than the average and indeed, it was briefly a record:

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