Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Amazon rainforest's silent killer, understory fires, outburns deforestation

Keerthi Chandrashekar in Latinos Post: Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest may capture most of the headlines, but NASA scientists have found a previously-undiscovered killer lurking under the tree tops: understory fires. The extent of damage caused by these fires is so great that it has destroyed more of the Amazon in recent years than deforestation.

These understory fires have escaped NASA's satellites throughout the years because they are hidden from view and all that escapes through the thick tree canopies are wisps of smoke. The team of researchers had to utilize new techniques when analyzing satellite data.

...According to the study, understory fires between 1999 and 2010 ravaged 2.8 percent of the Amazon, or 33,000 square miles of forest. While grasses and shrubs in the Amazon savannah can handle fires that can spread up to 330 feet per minute, the trees and plants underneath the thick forest canopy cannot. Understory fires burn at a slow rate of only a few feet per minute, but destroy 10-50 percent of the burn area's trees. A slow but efficient killer of the forest.

The study also found no correlation between deforestation for farmland done through burning and understory fires. The highest rates of destruction done by the understory fires were in 2005, 2007, and 2010, while the most prolific years for manmade deforestation were 2003 and 2004.

...The scientists are hoping the study will help drive further research into the way climate change is contributing to understory fires. The existence of these understory fires changes the way carbon emissions from rainforests should be looked at....

Amazon fire smoke seen from space, via NASA

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