The Amazon rainforest -which encompasses much of northwestern Brazil and extends to Colombia, Peru, and other countries in South America- is the largest tropical forest in the world and is also famous for its enormous biodiversity. It is crisscrossed by thousands of rivers, including the largest in the world: the Amazon.
The fires that burned in the Amazon in recent months have captivated the world. Politicians, celebrities, and citizens -from the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, to the Portuguese soccer star, Cristiano Ronaldo– who expressed concern about the damage done to the region with those countless fires that never stop happening.
On these fires that have been caused in the Amazon, misconceptions have spread myths about the Amazon rainforest which will not help and that could exacerbate public opinion. The problem caused by fires in the Amazon constitutes an emergency situation that could get much worse.
The Amazon rainforest is on fire
This is true, but with one caveat. We do not know how much of the virgin Amazon rainforest remains – the parts that have never been felled or burned – are burning right now. Virgin forests in the Amazon are very resistant to fire in normal years, but lose that resistance when they suffer severe droughts. Amazon is currently not experiencing a severe drought, although half of the dry season has passed.
Forest fires in virgin Amazon forests are generally very close to the ground, one can step on them through the dense shadows and high humidity inside the forest that keep the leaves and branches moist.
Consequently, they are not usually detected by satellites. When one sees photos of Amazonian forests with fires in the treetops, it is most likely that those forests had already been cut down to sell the wood or that the fire had damaged them in previous years.
We know that there is a huge area of dead forests that are burning this year. These are forested areas felled with electric saws; they were taken out, and now they are set on fire to make room for the necessary crops which are very difficult to control.
The Amazon is approaching a critical moment after which it will be very difficult to save it
This is true. We are seeing some early signs of a marked descent into a vicious circle of drought, fires and dead trees, which in my opinion is the biggest threat to the Amazon in a world that is warming.
Much of the rainfall in the Amazon is generated by the forest itself, through the steam produced by the jungle when the water from the leaves of the trees evaporates high above the ground. When forests are cut down, less water vapor passes into the air and droughts become more likely.
As deforestation and climate change produce more severe droughts fires in virgin forests will be more frequent and widespread. In the jungle and when those trees fall to the ground, the jungle becomes more vulnerable to new fires, especially when damaged areas are invaded by highly flammable grasses and shrubs.
The number of fires in the Amazon this year is unprecedented
False. The number is high but not unprecedented. So far this year has been with more fires since 2010.
According to statistics, from the global database of fire emissions, the number of fires in Brazilian Amazon states until August of this year is 25% higher than the average number of fires in the same period from 2010 to 2018. The number of fires each year correlates with the deforestation area and the severity of the follow-up during the dry season.
Deforestation of the Amazon progresses enormously
Deforestation is increasing. But it is still below its historical average. From 1996 to 2005, deforestation in the Amazon covers square kilometers. In 2012, due to the expansion of the protected forest area, the hard hand with illegal logging and restrictions on agricultural credits has been increasing slowly since then.
The Amazon rainforest is doomed to die
This is false. In the near future, it is possible to save the Amazon if Brazil and the other Amazonian nations improve their programs to combat forest fires and restore forest cover that has been destroyed. If forests are allowed to grow back naturally and degraded land is actively restored, then it is possible to reverse many of the negative impacts of deforestation.
The good news is that the most damaging fires, which burn in virgin forests, are also the easiest to put out. The key is to discover these fires as soon as possible and respond quickly with teams of farmers and local farm workers who have been trained in firefighting techniques.
In short, we have the tools to save Amazon … We just have to use them!