NASA warns conditions are ripe for a severe Amazon fire season

This is bad news, especially after the devastation in the Amazon rainforest in 2019.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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ISS astronaut Luca Parmitano snapped this view of smoke from the Amazon rainforest fires on Aug. 24, 2019.

ESA/NASA–L. Parmitano

Amazon fires and Atlantic hurricanes have something in common. Warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean may herald dangerous seasons for both.

NASA announced on Thursday that 2020 holds the the potential for severe fires and hurricanes as "warmer surface waters near the equator draw moisture northward and away from the southern Amazon." This can leave the Amazon dry and vulnerable while simultaneously feeding the development of hurricanes.

This year's forecast comes after devastating fires ripped across the Amazon rainforest in 2019. The majority of those came about through human activity as fires set to clear the forest for farming or ranching raged out of control.

Doug Morton of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at  NASA 's Goddard Space Flight Center helped build an Amazon fire season forecast tool that includes predictions of fire risk for various regions of the Amazon.  

Morton compared 2020 conditions with the recent past. 

"The fire season forecast is consistent with what we saw in 2005 and 2010, when warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures spawned a series of severe hurricanes and triggered record droughts across the southern Amazon that culminated in widespread Amazon forest fires," he said.

A warming globe is another factor that can feed into fire activity. Forecast co-creator Yang Chen of the University of California, Irvine said "climate change is likely to make the entire region drier and more flammable."

The Amazon fire predictions are an early warning and a call for preparedness. "Now," Morton said, "satellite-based estimates of active fires and rainfall will be the best guide to how the 2020 fire season unfolds." 

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