Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Smoke over the Amazon

A few moments ago I was browsing the news in an effort to reaquaint myself with the happenings of the world after trekking the southern Amazon Basin with the National Outdoor Leadership School for the past 3 months. I came across a short piece on Al Jazeera which hit home - Smoke over the Amazon.

Over the past few months, I have often seen the same smoke Mr. Elizondo saw through the window of his plane, and occasionally from a much closer vantage point. I can recall seeing plumes of white or brownish-black smoke rising into the air and patches of blackened earth and trees where the fires had been. Once, while our bus was driving on the Trans-Amazonican Highway, we drove through a place where there were fires on both sides of the road. There was zero visibility within the haze. Neither we nor the driver could see the reddish ribbon of the highway for a few long moments. When we finally exited the cloud, the heavy scent of smoke remained with us.


Photo:
looking back on a fire
over the Trans-Amazonica.
Nov. 2009


A few of the fires which occur in the Amazon Basin are natural, started by lightning. In the serrado (or savanna) environments, fires are part of the natural cycle. Most of the fires, however, are man-made. They serve as the first step in clear-cutting the rainforest for agricultural use or farmland. According to data from the late 1990's (I'll update with more recent data when I have a chance to find it), over 20,000 km2 (7,722 square miles) of rainforest are cleared per year.

Until the rains come, this is still the Burning Season in the Amazon.

Expect more on my Amazon expedition, and more about rainforest ecology and deforestation, once I'm back in the US.

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