Air Quality Life

An image of a pair of lungs transposed over the Amazon Rainforest.
An image of a pair of lungs transposed over the Amazon Rainforest.
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The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record pace, threatening the prosperity of the planet

The Amazon, often referred to as the ‘Earth’s Lungs,’ plays a vital role in managing the planet’s Carbon Dioxide levels and creating Oxygen. Today, the Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, according to the National Institute for Spa

The Earth’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, is a vital and fragile ecosystem with such size and density, that its ‘carbon store’ plays a significant role in slowing the rate of global warming.

In addition to being home to roughly 10% of World's known biodiversity, it's also home to more than a million indigenous people, whose traditions and livelihood are also under attack with the environmental destruction.1

As of Tuesday, 20 August 2019, the number of forest fires in the Amazon reached 74,155, a record high, since Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) began keeping records in 2013.2 In comparison, 2018 had slightly more than 40,000 fires for the same time frame.

The INPE estimates that more than 1½ soccer fields of Amazon rainforest are destroyed every minute of every day.3

In addition to the physical destruction, the resulting smoke of the Amazon fires was so thick it could be seen from space. The AirVisual Earth map, which uses satellite data to estimate PM2.5 concentration in locations without ground-based air quality monitoring stations, revealed half of Brazil is breathing unhealthy air pollution, while neighboring countries including Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay were also affected.
 

 

PM2.5 heat map of the Amazon wildfires
Heat mapped PM2.5 data, as reported by AirVisual Earth on 21 August, 2019, reveals the far-reaching spread of air pollution resulting from the Amazon wildfires.

 

While wildfires are not uncommon during the dry season, many are deliberately started by farmers who seek to quickly and easily clear their land after a harvest - while others are started to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

Some blame the abnormal surge in wildfires on Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. His actions, which include weakening environmental regulations, encouraging deforestation, exploring the Amazon's economic potential, and drastically cutting the budget for Brazil's environmental enforcement agency, are likely to have long-lasting, negative effects on the Amazon.

The World Wildlife Fund and a number of environmental activists have urged Bolsonaro and the current administration to reverse current positions and protect the Amazon. If the rainforest reaches its point of no return, it will become a barren savannah that will no longer be able to support its plants and wildlife.4 Should this happen, the Amazon may begin emitting carbon, rather than be a key source of the planet's oxygen – and as a result, further drive global climate change.
 

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Article Resources

[1] Inside the Amazon. (2019). http://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/

[2] Gajanan M (2019, August 21). A record number of fires are currently burning across the Amazon rainforest.
https://time.com/5657387/brazil-amazon-forest-fires-surge/

[3] Yeung J (2019, August 22). Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, research center says.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/21/americas/amazon-rainforest-fire-intl-hnk-trnd/index.html

[4] Amazon fires increase by 84% in one year – space agency. (2019, August 21).
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49415973 
 

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