Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mapping the Burning Rainforest

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) uses satellite data to assess the levels of wildfire in the Amazon rainforest. Inpe says that this data shows an 84% increase in wildfires in the Amazon this year over the same period in 2018.

One fairly clear indication of wildfires in the Amazon (and elsewhere) is the concentration of carbon monoxide. When carbon burns it produces water vapor and carbon monoxide. According to NASA in South America there is a strong correlation between carbon monoxide levels and fires, 'When fire counts are high, carbon monoxide is high; when fire counts are low, carbon monoxide is low'.

We can use real-time weather maps, such as Windy, to view current levels of CO around the world. At the time of writing Windy shows that there are very high levels of carbon monoxide in the west of Brazil.

Update: NASA has now released an animated map of carbon monoxide levels in the Amazon region from Aug. 8-22, 2019. NASA's AIRS Maps Carbon Monoxide from Brazil Fires uses data from NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument, aboard the Aqua satellite to visualize the carbon monoxide levels associated with the fires in Brazil.

The European Union's Earth Observation Programme, Copernicus, provides an interactive map of Fire Activity across the world. This map uses data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). CAMS provides information on atmospheric composition based on both satellite and ground-based observations. The National Institute for Space Research provide a similar interactive map. The Inpe map also includes a fire hazard layer showing the risk of fire across Brazil.

There is a direct link between the increase in wildfires in Brazil this year and the growing deforestation in the Amazon. Of the 10 areas that have recorded the largest fires in 2019, seven are areas with the highest number of deforestation warnings. Last year Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro. Since Jair Bolsonaro became president the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has grown. This year the rate of wildfires has also grown. Most people around the world believe therefore that this year's increase in fires in the Amazon is largely the direct fault of Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro himself says that non-government agencies are causing the fires in order to embarrass him. He also recently fired the head of Inpe.

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