Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rain will not extinguish Amazon fires for weeks, weather experts say

A fire burns a field on a farm in the Nova Santa Helena municipality, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. . (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A fire burns a field on a farm in the Nova Santa Helena municipality, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. . (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil’s Amazon (Eraldo Peres/AP)

Jake Spring

Weak rainfall is unlikely to extinguish a record number of fires raging in Brazil's Amazon anytime soon, with pockets of precipitation through Sept. 10 expected to bring only isolated relief, according to weather data and two experts.

The world's largest tropical rainforest is being ravaged as the number of blazes recorded across the Brazilian Amazon has risen 79pc this year through Aug. 25, according to the country's space research agency.

The fires are not limited to Brazil, with at least 10,000 square kilometers (about 3,800 square miles) burning in Bolivia near its border with Paraguay and Brazil.

While Brazil's government has launched a firefighting initiative, deploying troops and military planes, those efforts will only extinguish smaller blazes and help prevent new fires, experts said. Larger infernos can only be put out by rainfall.

The rainy season in the Amazon on average begins in late September and takes weeks to build to widespread rains.

The rain forecast in the next 15 days is concentrated in areas that need it least, according to Maria Silva Dias, a professor of atmospheric sciences at University of Sao Paulo. Less precipitation is expected in parts of the Amazon experiencing the worst fires, she added.

The far northwest and west of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest will see more rain in coming weeks but the eastern parts will remain very dry, Refinitiv data show.

Even areas with more rain will only get isolated showers, the experts said.

Fire consumes an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil (Leo Correa/AP)
Fire consumes an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil (Leo Correa/AP)

"In some points you could put out some fires, certainly, but these are isolated points, it's not the whole area," Dias said.

"The whole area needs it to rain more regularly, and this will only happen further down the line, around October."

Enough rain has to be concentrated in a short enough period to put out a fire, otherwise the water will just evaporate, Dias said.

She estimated it would take at least 20 millimeters of rain within 1-2 hours to put out a forest fire, with more required for more intense blazes.

The state of Acre, in the west of Brazil on the border with Peru, is expected to get more fire relief from rains than most of the Amazon. The number of fires in Acre has more than doubled so far this year compared with the year-ago period, with 90 fires registered from Aug. 21-25 alone, according to INPE data.

The western half of the state will get 57.6 mm over the next 15 days, while the east of the state will get 33.5 mm, Refinitiv data show.

Rondonia and southern Amazonas state are expected to get 15-29 mm across the area in the next 15 days.

"In some areas it could reduce the fires, not in general," said Matias Sales a meteorologist for Brazil weather information firm Climatempo.

The 15-day rain forecast is at or below the average for this period in previous years, according to Climatempo.

The eastern Amazon will stay dry over the next 15 days, with little or no rain in parts of Mato Grosso, Para and Tocantins where fires are up 54pc to 161pc compared with last year.

The dry season, which varies among parts of the Amazon but runs several months up to September, has been particularly dry this year, Dias said. Mato Grosso has been parched by a cold front that hit earlier in the year, she said.

Dias said she hoped the military would help to prevent new fires but putting out existing fires is a tougher task.

"The small fires will be extinguished but the big fires will go on for a while," she said.

Meanwhile, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has said a G7 agreement on fighting the Amazon fires treats the region like a colony.

The response came in a tweet Monday morning after French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the Group of Seven had agreed on a 20 million US dollar firefighting fund as well as a long-term initiative to protect the rainforest.

Mr Bolsonaro tweeted: "We cannot accept that a president, Macron, makes ludicrous and unnecessary attacks on Amazonia, nor that he makes his intentions with an idea of an 'alliance' of G7 countries to save the Amazon, as if we were a colony or someone's territory."

At the same time, Mr Macron savaged the Brazilian president for "extraordinarily disrespectful comments" about his wife and reiterated that Mr Bolsonaro had lied about commitments to deforestation.

Mr Bolsonaro, in turn, said Macron's "ludicrous and unnecessary attacks on the Amazon" were unacceptable and accused him of treating the region "as if we were a colony".

Mr Macron also said on Monday that he was considering launching an international campaign to help sub-Saharan African countries fight fires raging in the area that are being compared to the Amazon rainforest fires.

Mr Macron tweeted from the Group of Seven summit: "The forest is also burning in sub-Saharan Africa.

"We are studying the possibility of launching an initiative similar to what we just announced for the Amazon."

Mr Macron said earlier on Monday that G7 nations are committing 20 million US dollars to countries in the Amazon region to help fight the fires and help with "re-forestation".

Environmental groups have expressed concern about massive fires in African countries including Angola and DR Congo that are getting less attention than those in the Amazon, which have caused worldwide concern because of their potential impact on climate change.

Reuters

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