As one would assume, rainfall is a central aspect to the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, that rainfall has been sporadic since and lackluster in recent years spanning back to early 2002. This lack of precipitation has caused numerous problems for the rainforest, but one of the most pressing isn’t something that anyone would usually associate with the rainforest: wildfires. Due to the intense rainfall that usually covers the forests and the incredible amount of running water and damp atmosphere, wildfires in the rainforest haven’t historically posed much of a threat to the safety of the forest at large. However, droughts in the Amazon are becoming more and more extreme every few years, including 1997-98, 2005, 2010 and now in 2015-2016, and this is in large part due to changing rain patterns from El Niño weather cycle.
A wildfire is a huge danger to the rainforests in periods of drought, especially in the more extreme droughts that have been present in the last couple of decades. After the 1997-98 drought which followed an extreme El Niño, 13,200 square miles of forested area burned, and the Brazilian government’s attempts to neutralize the fires were ineffective. Only an unusual amount of rain eventually put the fire out. Many of these fires result from human attempts at slash-and-burn agriculture where farmers will burn areas of forest in order to get at the rich soil underneath. Unfortunately, fire is a very difficult thing to fully control, especially when many farmers have neither the means nor the manpower to be able to keep a “controlled” fire contained. In an article published by NASA’s Earth observatory, author Rebecca Lindsey states that “Historically, even during drought years, there were few, if any, natural fire triggers, since most lightning in the region is accompanied by rain. Scientists think the fire return frequency at any given location in the undisturbed Amazon was on the order of hundreds, possibly even thousands of years.” Wildfires didn’t become a problem until a combination of slash-and-burn agriculture and more extreme weather patterns brought on by human-caused climate change created massive wildfires that are difficult, if not impossible, to battle without rain as proven in the 1997-98 fires.
According to NASA, we are currently in a year where the rainforest has been the driest it’s been in more than a decade. This creates a substantial danger for wildfires, and we might not get lucky with enough rain to put out the next one before it causes even more damage to an already dwindling ecosystem. More than the damage of losing precious biodiversity, wildfires release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that contribute to global warming. The best way to prevent wildfires is to decrease personal carbon emissions so our weather patterns don’t become more and more extreme as well as to discourage farmers in the Amazon to continue with slash-and-burn agriculture. If people stop using fire as an agricultural tool, then the chances of a wildfire starting and torching the biodiverse forest we all love go down significantly. By decreasing your own carbon emissions, you help the world return to a more balanced ecosystem where droughts don’t threaten the rainforests.
“Amazon Could Face Intense Wildfire Season This Year, Nasa Warns.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 18 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Butler, Rhett. “FIRES IN THE RAINFOREST.” www.mongabay.com. N.p., 27 July 2012. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.
Lindsey, Rebecca. “From Forest to Field: How Fire Is Transforming the Amazon : Feature Articles.” From Forest to Field: How Fire Is Transforming the Amazon : Feature Articles. NASA, 8 June 2004. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.