Forest Fires of Amazon

A slew of forest fires have appeared in the rainforests of the Amazon, which causing large parts of the forest to go up in flames and has destroyed biomass accumulated over  millions of years of accumulated biomass in an instance. While forest fires in the Amazon are not new, this year a record 73000 forest fires have been recorded in the region. This is an 83% increase over the previous year and with the climate expected to get only drier and hotter in the coming month, the situation is only expected to become direr for the Amazons.

Why are the Amazon rainforests burning?

There are primarily two reasons for the burning of the Amazons. (1) The Increasing global climate has made the trees in the Amazons drier and more flammable. This make them more susceptible to burning. Natural forest fires which would earlier start and completely burn out in a day are now spreading over larger areas and causing more damage. (2) The increased stress on the land-use which is motivated by human greed leads to the destruction of the Amazons as parts of the forest are set on fire by the loggers and the animal farmers living nearby to clear the forest land for other uses.

Are all forest fires dangerous?

No, forest fires are at times beneficial for the forest. They clear away the rotting biomass on the forest floor which creates more space for the smaller plants to grow.

What are the different types of forest fires?

There are 2 types of forest fires. These are forest fires occurring due to the natural causes like lightning and heat which set the trees on fire. Forest fires also occur due to high atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity).

Fires also occur due to various man made causes like the introduction of a naked flame, cigarette, electric spark etc in the forest. This is more dangerous in dry & humid forests as it spreads rapidly and given its anthropogenic origin, no natural fire breaks exist in its path.

How does the Forest Fire destroy the rainforest?

The forest fire completely destroys the undergrowth in the forest which includes the grasses, the small plants and the creepers which are comparatively nearer to the ground. It burn kills or drives away all the organisms and animals in the area, effectively creating a dead zone in the region.  This destroys the undergrowth and even blackens out the tall trees which devoid of any nutrition soon die out, killing the entire flora and fauna in a region. In short, a forest fires increase the CO2 level in the atmosphere which further leads to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Additionally, the ashes have been found to destroy much of the nutrients and cause erosion the soil which leads to flooding and landslides in those regions.

Why should this be a cause of concern for us Indians?

The Amazon Rainforests are the world’s largest remaining green cover. Their large spread and the relative virility of the trees has made the Amazons “the lungs of the world”. It is estimated that the Amazons absorb over 17% of the CO2 absorbed by trees in the world and emit 20% of the Oxygen that we breathe. Any loss of the green cover is highly detrimental and given the rising amount of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere and the lack of other effective sources of CO2 sequestration elsewhere, the Amazon rainforests are a crucial lynchpin for human survival.

Why is Amazon burning a dangerous precedent for global warming?

The Amazon rainforest are one of the largest sinks of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, primarily the CO2. If the Amazon rainforests continue to burn, instead of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, they are venting out the stored CO2 into the air, further increasing CO2 in the air and accelerating the global climate change.

Can the Amazon Rainforests survive a sustained bout of forest fires?

No. If the Amazon rainforests are allowed to burn, they will enter an unstainable cycle of destruction. More forests would mean that more parts of the forest turn dry and become more prone to catching fire due to being more flammable.

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