‘A little bit of everything is burning.’: A NASA scientist dissects Amazon fires

Source: Science Magazine

A rash of fires in the Brazilian Amazon has caused diplomatic tensions between Brazil and several European countries and triggered protests from environmental groups around the world. Brazil’s government has pledged to stop the fires and sent in the military but denies its policies and rhetoric are responsible.

Science talked with remote sensing specialist Douglas Morton, one of the scientists who is closely watching the blazes. Morton heads the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which monitors land use and environmental changes through satellite data. Between January and late August, NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites have detected 100,000 “fire spots” in the Brazilian Amazon—the highest number in that period since 2010. The numbers are in line with those from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

With partners at the University of California, Irvine, Vrije University in Amsterdam, and the University of Maryland in College Park, Morton maintains the Global Fire Emissions Database, which tracks carbon emissions and burned areas from fire activity around the world. He has also worked in the field with Brazilian colleagues since 2001, studying the forests’ vulnerability and resilience to drought, fire, and logging.