13 July 2020News

Conditions ripe for Amazon fires and an active hurricane season: NASA

Warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean will likely lead to an active hurricane season, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of California, Irvine.

The US Atlantic hurricane season has shown signs of increased activity, with five named storms already in the books early in the season, NASA said.

It warned that the risk of fires in the southern Amazon is also elevated, while the COVID-19 pandemic may increase the logistical challenges around responding to fire emergencies in these areas, NASA added.

Doug Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, pointed to a perfect storm of conditions for fires: drought, increased deforestation and difficulties in firefighting.  “2020 is set up to be a dangerous year for fires in the Amazon,” he warned.

“The fire season forecast is consistent with what we saw in 2005 and 2010, when warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures spawned a series of severe hurricanes and triggered record droughts across the southern Amazon that culminated in widespread Amazon forest fires,” Morton added.

Morton is co-creator of an Amazon fire season  forecast. Now in its ninth year, the forecast analyses the relationship between climate conditions and active fire detections from NASA satellite instruments.

“Our seasonal fire forecast provides an early indication of fire risk to guide preparations across the region,” Morton said. The forecast is most accurate three months before the peak of burning in the southern Amazon in September. “Now, satellite-based estimates of active fires and rainfall will be the best guide to how the 2020 fire season unfolds,” Morton added.

The Brazilian states with the highest projected fire risk this season — Pará, Mato Grosso, and Rondônia — were among the regions with the most deforestation fire activity last year, which itself saw the largest number of active fire detections in the Amazon basin since 2010.