Fire in the Peruvian Amazon.
The risk of fire could increase across large parts of the Amazon rainforest due to increasing incident of drought, expansion of road networks, and rural outmigration, said a scientist speaking at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Bonito, Brazil.
Maria Uriarte of Columbia University presented research on fire occurrence and frequency in the Peruvian Amazon using data from NASA’s MODIS system. She and her colleagues found that fire risk increases with drought and the proximity of roads, results consistent with studies elsewhere in the world. Surprisingly, the researchers also found a link between fire and rural outmigration. In other words, when small farmers abandon their plots and move to cities, the rate of burning goes up. Depopulation provides no relief for the Amazon.
Digger deeper into the counterintuitive result, Uriarte found a greater number of neighboring farms is associated with lower fire risk. While small farmers use fire in Peru, they also control it, often in cooperation with neighbors.
“Owner absenteeism leads to greater fire risk,” she said.
Given that all Amazon countries (excluding French Guiana) are expecting rural population decline in coming decades, the findings suggest another fire risk factor in the region, which is already experiencing more fires as a consequence of warmer, drier conditions related to a warmer tropical Atlantic, and expanding road networks, which attract industrial agricultural development and cattle ranches that often employ fire for land-clearing.
But Uriarte said there are potential solutions, including setting up an early warning system for vulnerable locations and populations, creating incentives for people to stay in rural areas, and encouraging ranchers and farmers not to employ fire in land use activities.
Fires in the Amazon have emerged as a global concern due to the large emissions they produce. Even small surface fires have an impact: other studies (including research presented at the ATBC conference by Paulo Brando of IPAM) have shown that Amazon rainforest can quickly transition to savanna after only two or three small surface fires — the type of fires most likely to escape from pasture and agricultural areas.
12/12/12 Update: This paper was formally published in PNAS in December 2012. CITATION: María Uriarte, Miquel Pinedo-Vasquez, Ruth S. DeFries, Katia Fernandes, Victor Gutierrez-Velez, Walter E. Baethgen, and Christine Padoch. Depopulation of rural landscapes exacerbates fire activity in the western Amazon
PNAS 2012 ; published ahead of print December 10, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1215567110
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As Amazon deforestation rates fall, fires increase
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Depopulation may be harming the Amazon rainforest
(03/31/2010) Urbanization may be having unexpected impacts in the Amazon rainforest by leaving forest areas vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders, report researchers writing in Conservation Letters. Conducting field surveys during the course of 10,000-kilometers of travel along remote Amazon rivers, Luke Parry of Lancaster University found that a sharp decrease in rural habitation has not been accompanied by a decline in harvesting of wildlife and forest resources, indicating that urban populations exact a heavy toll on distant forests through hunting, fishing, logging, and harvesting of non-timber forest products.
Smoke from Amazon fires reduces local rainfall
(08/14/2008) Smoke released by fires set to clear the Amazon rainforest inhibit the formation of clouds, thereby reducing rainfall, report researchers writing in the journal Science. The study provides clues on how aerosols from human activity influence cloud cover and ultimately affect climate.
Greenhouse gas emissions have already caused the Amazon to dry
(02/27/2008) Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases have already caused the Amazon to dry, finds a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Small fires a big threat to Amazon rainforest biodiversity
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Half the Amazon rainforest will be lost within 20 years
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Fire policy is key to reducing the impact of drought on the Amazon
(02/19/2008) Gaining control over the setting of fires for land-clearing in the Amazon is key to reducing deforestation and the impact of severe drought on the region’s forests, write researchers in a paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
55% of the Amazon may be lost by 2030
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Subtle threats could ruin the Amazon rainforest
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