Amazon fires: Most blazes are in farmland, not the rainforest - scientists

The Amazon fires this year have generated outrage worldwide, but a new analysis suggests most of what's being burned isn't actually rainforest.

Scientists from the University of Maryland analysed satellite data and found the vast majority of blazes were burning in farmland, the New York Times reports.

"Most of this is land use that has replaced rainforest," Global Land Analysis and Discovery co-leader told the paper.

Fires in the Amazon happen every year around this time as farmers prepare the land for the next season of crops. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said there was a more than 80 percent jump in the number of fires this year, and 35 percent above the average recorded over the last eight years.

A map put together by the Times using INPE and NASA data however shows most are on land that's already been cleared.

But some of the fires have clearly been set to clear rainforest, University of Maryland wildfire expert Mark Cochrane told the paper - they create smoke that's more intense than that created by farmland blazes.

"When you slash an area, pile it up, let it dry and then burn it, it burns very intensely, and that's also what puts off a lot of that smoke."

Deforestation in the Amazon is at much lower levels than it was 15 years ago, but Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro is being blamed for this year's reported reversal in the rainforest's fortunes. In the past he has urged opening up the Amazon - often referred to as the planet's lungs - to further deforestation and mining, citing the economic benefits. For that he earned the nickname 'Captain Chainsaw'

The far-right firebrand earlier this month fired the head of INPE after he reported a steep increase in deforestation. Over the weekend he sent the Brazilian army in to fight the flames.

Brazil's former Environment Minister Rubens Ricupero told the Guardian on Sunday Bolsonaro was a "lunatic".

"In my opinion, he has turned himself into the most despised and detested leader in the world. I can't see anyone else - not even Duterte in the Philippines... not Trump, not anyone - who today provokes so much anger."

He said Brazil's image now was worse than it was in the 1970s, when a murderous military dictatorship ran the country.

"In the 1970s the government had a slogan: 'Amazonia will be colonized by hooves of cows,'" Ricupero said.

"They never accepted the idea that the Amazon had to be preserved. They see no reason for the forest not to be chopped down and replaced with agriculture and mining. This is his mindset."

The University of Maryland's analysis of the NASA and INPE data suggests the fires will actually get worse over the next two months - not better.



Contact Newshub with your story tips: