COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The month of August witnessed the greatest number of fires blazing in the Amazon rainforest since 2010.
There was a 35 percent drop-off in the number of fires in September (about 20,000) compared to August (near 31,000 fires), according to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. During the past year, more than 77,000 fires were reported in the Amazon region in South America.
Most of the fires are caused by humans to clear forest to make room for crops and cattle grazing. The remnants from charred trees help fertilize the soil in tandem with the start of the rainy season.
Widespread fires have health consequences because toxins in the smoke can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses, especially in sensitive populations.
Scientists also worry about the release of carbon dioxide into the air and the destruction of forests that store carbon in the trunks of trees, which has climatic implications.
“About six to ten percent of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon rainforest,” said Laurie Anderson, professor of botany-microbiology at Ohio Wesleyan University. She has made four trips to the region with her students to study the impacts of logging on delicate ecosystems.
Deforestation is implicated in planetary warming because carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere.
Plumes of moisture in the form of water vapor, as seen in satellite imagery, are transported northward by high-level winds from the tropics and the Caribbean Sea northward into the Midwest Corn Belt. The influx of tropical moisture was evident in storm systems that struck the Atlantic basin in August and September.
“Hurricane Dorian and Tropical Storm Imelda deviated moisture from the equatorial South America regime,” wrote Larry Cosgrove, a Texas-based meteorologist.
“If we lose up to 25 percent of the Amazon — and we’re at 20 percent right now — we are going to change the rainfall of the entire region, as well as release lots of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Anderson, “and that can impact us here.”