Last update: September 18th, 2019 at 6:00 pm
Fires continued to burn across northern South America at the close of January 2016. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image on January 30 as it passed over the region.
Red hot spots can be seen speckling the landscape in Colombia (west), Venezuela (north) and Brazil (south). Each hot spot represents an area where the thermal bands on the MODIS instrument detected temperatures significantly higher than background. When accompanied by plumes of smoke, as are most in this image, such hot spots are diagnostic for actively burning fire. The widespread nature of the fires, the location and the time of the year suggest that most of these fires are agricultural in origin and were deliberately set to manage cropland or pasture.
In the west and northwest, most of the fires are scattered in tan areas which are primarily grassland. In Brazil, however, fires are clustered in the deep green of the Amazon. Many of these fires are profusely smoky, and strong wind blows the smoke hundreds of miles to the southwest.
The Brazilian fires are burning primarily in the State of Roraima, an area with high biodiversity and multiple ecosystems, including heavily vegetated forest. According to NASA researcher Doug Morton, who works with a team predicting fire severity in the region, the link between El Niño conditions and fires in the Brazilian state of Roraima has been seen before in the historic record, as relatively weak El Niño events in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 led to large increases in fire activity. In addition, International Forest Fire News (IFFN) has described how a strong El Niño led to the “Great Fire” of 1998, which impacted 6% – 7% of Roraima’s original forest ecosystem.
A NASA feature article published online in August 2015 quotes Dr. Morton as saying “Roraima’s increase in fire risk during El Niño events is so consistent that you don’t need our model to know that the region will experience significant fire risk in 2015-2016.”
To read more about prediction of Amazon fire risk and severity in the 2015 fire season go to: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/amazon-fire-risk-differs-across-east-west-divide-in-2015 .