By Herton Escobar
“Dry weather, wind, and heat”—those were the factors that Brazilian Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles blamed for the rising number of forest fires in the Amazon in a recent tweet. But scientists in Brazil and elsewhere say there is clear evidence that the spike, which has triggered concerns and anger around the world, is related to a recent rise in deforestation that many say is partly the result of prodevelopment policies of the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The blazes are surging in a pattern typical of forest clearing, along the edges of the agricultural frontier, says Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of São Paulo. Historical data show that the two phenomena are closely linked: Chainsaws lead the way, followed by flames, and then cattle or other forms of development. “There is no doubt that this rise in fire activity is associated with a sharp rise in deforestation,” Artaxo says.
By Saturday, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) had counted more than 41,000 fire spots in the Brazilian Amazon so far this year, compared with 22,000 in the same period last year. The Global Fire Emissions Database project, which includes scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the University of California, Irvine; and Vrije University in Amsterdam, sees the same trend, although its numbers are slightly higher. (The main data source for both agencies is the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, an instrument aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites that detects the location and intensity of fires through a thermal signature. But each agency has its own algorithms to analyze the images and classify the spots.)
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