It’s not just Amazon rainforest, the entire Earth is burning
Indonesia is seeing its worst forest fires in the last five years. Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia are going up in flames, too. Other countries in continental Europe--Greece, Turkey, France and Spain--are also suffering from the blaze.
Thousands of fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest keep the night sky glowing a dusky yellow in Brazil.
Wildfires have surged a record 83 per cent so far this year when compared to the same period in 2018, according to Brazil's space research agency INPE.
The government agency has registered 72,843 fires, the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites since last Thursday alone.
The first two weeks of July saw 1,000 square kilometers of forest go up in smoke, 68 per cent more than during all of July 2018.
The blaze is so intense that it’s visible even from space.
The Amazon rainforests--60 per cent of which are located in Brazil--supply a fifth of the planet’s oxygen. It accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforests and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, including a million indigenous people.
Forest fires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October. Scientists say that most of the fires were likely set by farmers preparing the land for next year’s planting, a common agricultural practice.
Fire detection from MODIS between August 15-22
NASA’s tool for fire detection has been Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on the Terra and Aqua satellites. The figure (below) shows that the number of fire incidents have been maximum this year.
The whole planet is burning down
Brazil isn’t alone. Indonesia, home to among the oldest tropical forests on the planet, is seeing its worst forest fires in the last five years.
The dry season in Indonesia, which peaks in August, could potentially see a breakout of 700 forest fires, with the most fire prone regions being Sumatra, Kalimantan and Riau islands. The damage though, won't be limited to just Indonesia—prevailing winds carried smoke and dust particles to Malaysia and Singapore.
Strangely, even the snow-clad regions are witnessing a number of wildfires. Alaska (US) is in the midst of an extended wildfire season and the lack of rains and high speed winds have knocked trees into power lines, igniting more fires. Greenland and Siberia (Russia) are going up in flames, too.
While Denmark dispatched firefighters to control fires on the world’s largest island, Russia--the world's largest area covered by forests (45 per cent)--sent in military planes to douse the fires after 2 million inhabitants at risk pleaded for help. This is a desperate change in its policy of letting the fires burn themselves out in order to save costs.
Other countries in continental Europe--Greece, Turkey, France and Spain--are also suffering from the blaze.
What about India?
The number of forest fire alerts in India shot up from 35,888 in 2017 to 37,059 in 2018. Just six months into the year 2019, and the fires have scaled up to 28,252, Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Babul Supriyo told the Parliament.
Twenty-two people died due to wildfires in the last two years (until June, 2019), tens of thousands of hectares were affected, and crores of economic losses were reported.
Madhya Pradesh recorded the maximum 2,600 forest fires followed by Mizoram (2,527), Maharashtra (2,203), Odisha (1,917), and Assam (1,686) since November 2018, data accessed from the Real Time Forest Alert System of the Forest Survey of India (FSI) via MODIS measurement said.
A more sensitive SNPP-VIIRS satellite that has higher resolution and detects fires that MODIS overlooks finds these numbers increase ten-fold.
A major factor contributing to the near pandemic nature of forest fires this year has been the rising temperatures, with July being the hottest month ever on Earth, since records have been maintained for the last 140 years.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average global temperature in July was 1.71 F above the 20th century average of 60.4 F. That kind of heat doesn't just spark fires--it also shrank the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice to historic lows.