Understory Fires a Major Factor in the Amazon

h/t Greg Laden, via a JPL press release:

Using an innovative satellite technique, NASA scientists have determined that a previously unmapped type of wildfire in the Amazon rainforest is responsible for destroying several times more forest than has been lost through deforestation in recent years.

In the southern Amazon rainforest, fires below the forest treetops, or “understory fires,” have been hidden from view from NASA satellites that detect actively burning fires. The new method has now led to the first regional estimate of understory fire damages across the southern Amazon.

“Amazon forests are quite vulnerable to fire, given the frequency of ignitions for deforestation and land management at the forest frontier, but we’ve never known the regional extent or frequency of these understory fires,” said Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the study’s lead author. The study was published April 22 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

In years with the most understory fire activity, such as 2005, 2007 and 2010, the area of forest affected by understory fires was several times greater than the area of deforestation for expansion of agriculture, according to Morton. The study goes further and fingers climate conditions – not deforestation – as the most important factor in determining fire risk in the Amazon at a regional scale.

From a sublinked article:

“Amazon forests are quite vulnerable to fire, given the frequency of ignitions for deforestation and land management at the forest frontier, but we’ve never known the regional extent or frequency of these understory fires,” said Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the study’s lead author. The study was published April 22 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Even with these clues it took an exasperating amount of time for me to track down

D. C. Morton, Y. Le Page, R. DeFries, G. J. Collatz, and G. C. Hurtt
Research article: Understorey fire frequency and the fate of burned forests in southern Amazonia
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 2013 368 20120163; doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0163 (published 22 April 2013)

(Every press officer and science journalist who doesn’t provide a link to the original publication needs to be flogged.)

Anyway the upshot is “Evidence from the past decade suggests that future projections of frontier landscapes in Amazonia should separately consider economic drivers to project future deforestation and climate to project fire risk.”

Comments:

  1. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, June 9, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered


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