Study shows link between Amazon fires, melting of Andes glacier

Amazon fires. Photo: NASA

Nov. 29 (UPI) — Fires in the Amazon River region may increase the melting of a nearby Andes Mountains glacier, a study published Thursday said.

Fires burning in the Amazon rain forests are common, notably in Brazil, with farmers recently encouraged by the government to burn natural habitats to create pastures.

More than 72,000 fires occurred this year in Brazil, an increase of 84 percent over last year. Smoke from the fires has been visible from space.

New research published Thursday in Scientific Reports suggests the fires in “southwestern Amazonia” — an area which includes rain forests in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru — may increase the melting of the Zongo Glacier, a rapidly-shrinking supply of fresh water in Bolivia calculated in 2013 to be 724.4 square miles in area.

Using data from fires between 2000 and 2016, researchers Newton de Magalhães Neto, Heitor Evangelista, Thomas Condom, Antoine Rabatel and Patrick Ginot identified “a massive contribution of black carbon and dust particles emitted from biomass burning in the Amazon Basin” as part of the glacier’s decline.

The pollution alone, sitting atop snow and reducing reflected sunlight, has the potential to accelerate the increase the glacier’s decline by up to 14 percent.

The study is the first to identify a connection between the smoky Amazon fires and the melting of the glacier. Atmospheric data from 2007 and 2010, when an unusual amount of burning occurred, indicates that black carbon from the fires were carried by wind to the glacier.

“Amazon deforestation and fires – events that occur mainly in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil – cannot be considered a regional issue,” de Magahales Neto told the BBC. “They have social implications at the continental scale, [because] accelerating the loss of glaciers increases the risk of a water crisis and the vulnerability of several Andean communities in response to climate change.”


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