When you think of South America, what do you think of? For us, it’s the Amazon Rainforest. Millions of miles, home to billions of trees and animals; full of colours, all different sizes, all calling this place their home.
Now what? To add to the deforestation that happens on an incomprehensibly large scale everyday, forest fires are now taring their way through.
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world (a staggering 5.5 million km²), bigger than the second and third largest combined. It’s no surprise then, that it’s responsible for 20% of our Earth’s oxygen. Just one rainforest. No wonder it’s referred to as ‘the Earth’s lungs’ ; a constant cycle of extracting all of the human made carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and replacing it with rich oxygen. It doesn’t need much of an explanation to realise just how important the rainforest is on that one factor alone.
To those who don’t live in it, we think of it as a place of natural beauty, stunning scenery and amazing wildlife. But its so much more than that. To some it’s a home- it’s their livelihood. Whether it be something like farming, the impacts of losing their land will be huge. It also has a knock on effect, spreading further than the rainforest itself. 70% of South America’s GDP is produced in areas that receive rainfall or water from the Amazon. With rainfall patterns being influenced as far away as America, what would happen if this system was disrupted? Ecosystems would be effected, Capital would be effected, Financial Development could be halted. All things that we don’t realise.
Did you know that more than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests? We didn’t! Of course not all of them will be in the Amazon, but being the largest rainforest by a huge margin, a big chunk of them can be found there. The ecosystem is rich, with around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and a staggering 2.5 million different insects. I mean, that’s something that we just can’t comprehend!
Around 7,381,000 cubic feet of freshwater water travels from the Amazon River into the Atlantic Ocean every second. Water that will now contain ash; water that is also a harvested for populations around the rainforest everyday.
One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin. This water will travel into various water systems- whether it be extracted or filtered from the oceans for example, and used by many people in Brazil. Approximately 76-90% of the area uses improved drinking-water sources and sanitation services, to harvest this water, which is key to good health. If you’re thinking that the rainforest doesn’t really effect you, think again.
Although decreasing, the Amazon Rainforest had some of the highest levels of deforestation in the world, which has greatly affected the access to and quality of the water. Even though the deforestation has decreased, the area has still lost a lot of fresh water as a result. With so much of the rainforest being destroyed by the fires, it’s horrible to think of the impact this will have on the fresh water supply.
Now imagine a world without the Amazon Rainforest.
Where did this fire come from?
It is unknown as to why this fire is occurring- whether it is as a result of climate change, or if it was ‘deliberate’.
Higher temperatures are reducing the level of rainfall across much of the Amazon. This leads to drought, thus increasing the likelihood of forest fires. Wildfires often occur in the dry season, but this year has been worse than usual (according to INPE). This is a ‘reasonable’ explanation for the fires, with temperatures being higher than usual, causing more fires.
However, it is known that fires are deliberately started, in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching. With the dryness of the land and wind, a small fire could have quickly and easily got out of hand.
The Space Agency reports its satellite data has detected more than 72,000 fires between January and August 2019, mostly in the Amazon region. Whilst it is ‘normal’ for smaller fires to be detected, there has been an increase compared to the same time in 2018, with the current fire being on a much larger scale than is to be expected.
The smoke resulting from these wildfires has been captured in satellite images released by NASA, due to their size. This very same smoke has caused a daytime blackout in Brazil’s largest city São Paulo, which is more than 1,700 miles away. This was as a result of the change of wind, transporting the smoke to the city.
Research has been carried out, which suggests that if the current rates of global warming continue, the majority of the Amazon could transition into savanna. Not only would this obviously affect those whose livelihoods rely on the forest as well as the animals that live within, but the impact would also spread worldwide. Due to the vast reduction in vegetation, there would be an equal reduction in the amount of carbon absorbed form the atmosphere. What does that mean? The ‘rainforest’ would become a carbon source rather than a carbon sink- it will release carbon rather than absorbing it. Oxygen levels will also decrease, which again will have effects worldwide.
This is a harsh reminder that we need to stop Climate Change. We need to Change.