August 24, 2019 - Fire and Smoke in South America

Fire and Smoke in South America

Smoke from large fires burning in the Amazon rainforest, primarily in Brazil, stretched over northern South America by mid-August 2019. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of smoke across southwestern Peru (north) and Bolivia (south) on August 16, 2019.

In the Amazon region, fires are rare for much of the year because wet weather prevents them from starting and spreading. However, in July and August, activity typically increases due to the arrival of the dry season. Many people use fire to maintain farmland and pastures or to clear land for other purposes. Typically, activity peaks in early September and mostly stops by November.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, as of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. (The Amazon spreads across Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and parts of other countries.) Although activity appears to be well above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.

While the fires appeared to be furious, but not record-setting as of August 16, the blazes have continued to grow. On August 23, BBC News shared data from The National Institute of Space Research (Inpe), a research unit of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, which suggests that Brazil has seen a record number of fires in 2019, with its satellite data showing an 85% increase over the same period in 2018. The article states, “The official figures show more than 75,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year - the highest number since 2013. That compares with 40,000 in the same period in 2018.” While some parts of the country still have average or low number of fires, according to this more recent report, the states Roraima, Acre, and Rondônia report far more fires than average. Mato Grosso do Sul also now reports extremely high fire numbers. Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil, has declared a state of emergency.

Image Facts
Satellite: Terra
Date Acquired: 8/16/2019
Resolutions: 1km (2.2 MB), 500m (6.2 MB), 250m (4.4 MB)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC