December 1, 2022 - Late Season Fires in Central South America


On November 29, 2022, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite captured a true-color image of smoky skies and fires across the landscape of central South America. The image is centered on Bolivia, where smoke hangs so heavily over the plains north of the Andes Mountains, that it obscures the land from view. Another thick patch of smoke sits near the border of Bolivia (north), Paraguay (east), and Argentina (south). Parts of Chile is also visible in the southwest. Fire, which appear as red “hot spots” also are located in Brazil and are partially hidden under cloud.

The thickest smoke plumes amid the heavily forested (green) areas typically rise from deforestation fires. These are usually lit to dispose of piles of leftover wood, sometimes several months after forests have been bulldozed. Forest clearing for ranching and farming is common in much of central South America. Grassland fires lit by ranchers and farmers to manage cattle pastures or croplands tend to be smaller, emit smaller smoke plumes, and appear in brown-tinted agricultural areas. These human-caused fires sometimes slip control to become destructive wildfires that burn out of control.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) uses MODIS observations to monitor daily fire activity in the Amazon; INPE scientists also maintain a record of MODIS fire detections that spans decades. The agency reported 39,727 Aqua MODIS fire detections in Bolivia between January 1 and November 30, 2022. This is a 16 percent rise in fires from the same period in 2021. Brazil has seen a 7 percent increase in 2022, with 193,810 fires, while Argentina registered 42,413 fire detections in this time period, a rise of 35 percent from 2021. Paraguay had a 32 percent decrease in fires detected, with 16,042 fires in 2022.

The southern Amazon region was exceptionally dry during the 2022 dry season, leading to an intense fire season by September. Usually, the fire season winds down by October or November, yet MODIS fire detections show activity continues, although not as fiercely as in September. In mid-September 2022, NASA’s Earth Observatory published a story titled “Smoke Blankets the Amazon” that discussed the intensity of the September fires. That story can be found by clicking here.

Image Facts
Satellite: Terra
Date Acquired: 11/29/2022
Resolutions: 1km (1.3 MB), 500m (1.4 MB), 250m (4.5 MB)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC