Smoke from dozens of fires blanketed Brazil’s Pantanal region in late November 2023, marking an exceptionally fierce and late extension of the fire season across the region. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of drought-driven fires on November 14.
Each red “hot spot” marks an area of actively burning fire. Many of the fires are found along the banks of rivers—especially around the Amazon River that meanders across the image. Large clusters appear to burn near or within protected tropical wetland of the Pantanal.
In typical years the rainy season (October to March) drenches the Pantanal, which fills like a giant reservoir with floodwaters. As the dry season progresses, water slowly drains away, but never completely. This wetland cycle feeds the lush landscape and high biodiversity that includes jaguars, caiman, macaws, and many endangered or threatened species. Fire season typically begins in July and lasts about 13 weeks.
But 2023 has not been typical. Drought and high temperatures have withered the Pantanal wetlands, leaving some year-round lakes little more than muddy puddles and vegetation dangerously dry. The rains that usually begin in October have been late, creating a perfect setting for rapid expansion of wildfires. The Brazilian space research agency INPE reported more than 2,300 fires in the Pantanal in the first 13 days of November.