Striking photos show the devastation wreaked by record-breaking fires in the Amazon rainforest

Joey Hadden
fires in the amazon

Bruno Kelly/Reuters


Nearly 10,000 fiery infernos are raging across the Amazon, razing tropical vegetation and trees.

Since August 15, more than 9,500 new forest fires have started across Brazil, primarily in the Amazon rainforest basin. The largest state in Brazil, Amazonas, has declared a state of emergency. Smoke from the recent fires spread thousands of miles this week, darkening the sky in São Paulo on Monday.

Read More: Amazon fires created a smoke eclipse in the skies above Brazil's largest city, 2,000 miles away

This year so far, scientists have recorded more than 74,000 fires in Brazil — nearly double 2018's total of about 40,000 fires. The surge marks an 83% increase in wildfires over the same period of 2018, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research reported.

As the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon plays a crucial role in keeping our planet's carbon-dioxide levels in check. Plants and trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air in their process of photosynthesis. This is why the Amazon, which covers 2.1 million square miles, is often referred to as the "lungs of the planet."

Not only has the Amazon been hit hard by fires this summer, it also experienced record-breaking deforestation last month. In July, the rainforest lost an area more than twice the area of Tokyo.

If too much of the Amazon disappears, that could trigger a "dieback," in which the Amazon is transformed into savannah-like habitat and in the process releases 140 billions tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

These images show what the devastation in the Amazon looks like.

The map below shows every fire that's started across Brazil since August 13, 2019.

Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Source: Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, Global Forest Watch



NASA satellites have also spotted the many fires raging in the western Brazilian Amazon.

NASA

According to Reuters, parts of the rainforest smell like a barbecue.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Sources: Queimadas, Reuters



The fires are directly linked to deforestation, since farmers sometimes set the forest ablaze to make room for livestock pastures and crop fields.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

July set a new record for the most deforestation of the Amazon in one month: The Amazon shrunk by 519 square miles (1,345 square kilometers).

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

That's nearly twice the size of New York City.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Data from Brazilian satellites indicated that about three football fields' worth of Amazonian trees fell every minute in July.

Maxar Technologies/AP

Source: Terra Brasilis



During the Amazon's dry season, blazes can also spark from natural sources, like lightning strikes.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Typically, that dry season runs from July to October, peaking in late September. Wetter weather during the rest of the year minimizes the risk of fires at other times.

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

But warmer temperatures and drier conditions linked to climate change make it easier for both these natural and intentionally lit fires to get out of control.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

That extra heat and dryness enable blazes to grow bigger than they otherwise might have.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

In total, the recent blazes have created a layer of smoke estimated to be 1.2 million square miles wide.

NOAA

By Monday, smoke plumes had spread from the western state of Amazonas to the nearby states of Pará and Mato Grosso, and even blotted out the sun in São Paulo — a city more than 2,000 miles away.

Andre Lucas/Getty

The Amazon rainforest is a source of life support for our planet, since its plants and trees produce 20% of the world's oxygen.

Ueslei Marcelino/ReutersUeslei Marcelino/Reuters

Source: BBC



But if enough of the Amazon burns or gets cut down, it could pass a tipping point that would lead it to disappear entirely and irreversibly.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

In that scenario, known as a "dieback," the rainforest would get converted into an African savannah-type habitat.

AP Photo/Andre Penner

That would spell disaster for Amazonian flora and fauna, of course, and it would also lead to the release of 140 billion tons of stored carbon dioxide.

Ricardo Funari/Getty

That CO2 would then further warm the planet. Once this dieback starts, the forest would be "beyond the reach of any subsequent human intervention or regret," according to the Intercept.

Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Source: The Intercept



Brazil controls a lion's share of the Amazon. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has indicated that protecting the rainforest is not one of his top priorities.

Adriano Machado/Reuters

Source: Business Insider



Bolsonaro supports development projects like a highway and hydroelectric dam in the Amazon.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

His administration has also cut down on the seizing of illegally harvested timber. In 2018, the Brazilian government seized 883,000 cubic feet of illegal timber. But as of May 15, 2019, Bolsonaro's government agencies had seized only 1,410 cubic feet, Pacific Standard reported.

Ricardo Morales/Reuters

Source: Pacific Standard

 



Between January and May, Bolsonaro's government also lowered the number of fines it levied for illegal deforestation and mining (down 34% from the same period in 2018) and decreased its monitoring of illegal activity in the rainforest.

Bruno Kelly / Reuters

When Reuters asked Bolsonaro about the record-breaking fires in Brazil, he pointed to the fact that it's a time of year when farmers purposefully use fire to clear land — a seasonal cycle called "queimada."

Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Source: Reuters



Bolsonaro also suggested — without evidence — that non-governmental organizations are setting the fires to damage his reputation.

REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/SERGIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images/Business Insider

Source: Reuters