The devastation from the fires could affect rainfall patterns in the U.S. Midwest, threatening food production

By Claudia Harmata
August 26, 2019 04:23 PM

Photos captured by NASA show that the ravaging fires in the Amazon rainforest can be seen all the way from space.

While NASA said “it is not unusual” to see fires in Brazil this time of year “due to high temperatures and low humidity,” the new satellite images show the troubling extent of the blazes — and experts are saying the effects could be felt globally.

Each red dot on the photograph represents a fire or “thermal anomalies,” according to NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview application, which shows a snapshot for each day. When a user moves the application tool through August, several states in South America become increasingly red.

Citing Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), CNN reported there have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year (with more than half in its Amazon region), and satellite images have spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the county — mostly in the Amazon basin — since Thursday.

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Amazon rainforest from space, with red dots representing a fire or "thermal anomaly"
NASA Worldview
Amazon rainforest from space
NASA

The Amazon spans eight countries and is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs,” as it produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen. The onslaught of fire is threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen in a disaster that experts are now saying will be felt around the world, including in the Midwest region of the U.S. as weather patterns shift.

“The Amazon is definitely a weather engine,” Meg Symington, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior director for the Amazon in the U.S., told NBC.

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“It’s well-known that the weather patterns affect rainfall in the breadbasket of South America,” she added, “but there’s also evidence that it affects the breadbasket that is the middle of the U.S.”

The fires could potentially have a lasting effect on rainfall patterns, which could destabilize ecosystems in the Midwest and threaten food production.

Amazon rainforest on fire
STR/AFP/Getty
Amazon rainforest on fire
Porto Velho Firefighters HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Citing a 2014 study by the Nature Climate Change journal, NBC reported that “complete Amazon deforestation would reduce rainfall in the U.S. Midwest, Northwest and parts of the south during the agricultural season.” The study also concluded that 40 percent of deforestation would have the capability of reducing rainfall over 2,000 miles away.

RELATED VIDEO: Amazon Rainforest Fires Threaten Climate Change Efforts — What’s at Stake for the Planet

Even more worrisome? There’s a so-called tipping point for how much deforestation the rainforest can take before the ecosystem flips and replaces the forest with a savannah. The 2014 study said that the tipping point was around 30 to 50 percent deforestation. However, a 2018 study by Science Advances journal claimed the tipping point is at 20 to 25 percent, NBC reported.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, around 17 percent of the Amazon has already been lost, putting it dangerously close to the potential tipping point.

Several environmentalists have said cattle ranchers and farmers intentionally set the current fires to clear the land for their own use. If the fires and deforestation continue to go unchecked, experts say the tipping point could be reached in as little as five years.

“The Amazon is so important — a critically important part of the world — not just for animals and plants and the people that live there,” Symington told NBC. “This is a crisis.”

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