The fires raging across the Amazon have largely fallen under the radar in 2020 relative to those that captured the world’s attention in 2019, despite being just as devastating if not worse. Blame the ongoing pandemic, looming elections, and extreme wildfires here at home for the distraction.
But the Amazon fires are not going away. As one fire season winds down, another begins anew. These fires persist at a great cost to the climate, global health, and indigenous peoples on the frontlines of forest protection.
What the Data Tells Us
As it has been widely reported, fires across the Amazon basin often follow deforestation, as farmers and ranchers encroach on new lands, often illegally, and burn the felled trees to make way for new, large-scale pastures and croplands.
This year, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to intensify deforestation as illegal miners, loggers, and coca growers increased operations as the attention of environmental enforcement agents was redirected to national health emergency responses.
Our spatial analysis of precipitation and fire patterns across the Amazon demonstrates the cyclical relationship between dry seasons and fire. Fires in the northern Amazon begin in February and reach their peak in March, while fires in the southern Amazon begin in July and peak in August and September. This cyclical pattern corresponds primarily with the seasons as rainfall patterns oscillate across the region, creating wet and dry seasons. In the northern Amazon and Guiana Shield region, the dry season typically extends from November to May, while the southern dry season is more pronounced and lasts from May to November.