Monday, April 9, 2012

Warming Atlantic primes the Amazon for fire

Barbara Fraser for The Daily Climate: ...Scientists used to think the rainforest, especially in the western Amazon, was too wet to burn. But major fire seasons in 2005 and 2010 made them reconsider.

Fires are a major source of carbon emissions in the Amazon, and scientists are beginning to worry that the region could become a net emitter, instead of a carbon sink. New findings link rising ocean temperatures off the northern coast of Brazil to changing weather patterns: As the Atlantic warms, it draws moisture away from the forest, priming the region for bigger fires.

"We are reaching a tipping point in terms of drought, beyond which these forests can catch fire," says Daniel Nepstad, international program director at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brasília, Brazil.

The 2005 drought – considered a once-in-a-century event – resulted in unprecedented wildfires in Acre, the western Brazilian state bordering Peru. Flames scorched the tree canopy, and at one point the front face of the fire stretched nearly seven miles. As many as 1.2 million acres of forests were affected in Acre and the neighboring regions of Pando in Bolivia and Madre de Dios in Peru. Officials estimated upwards of $100 million in economic damages...

NASA image of fire and deforestation near Rondonia, Brazil

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