El Niño could drive intense season for Amazon fires

From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the “just watch, they’ll blame climate change anyway” department comes this forecast:

An analysis of data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission shows greater soil water deficits in 2016 than previous drought years with high Amazon fire activity. CREDIT Yang Chen, University of California, Irvine

An analysis of data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission shows greater soil water deficits in 2016 than previous drought years with high Amazon fire activity. CREDIT Yang Chen, University of California, Irvine

The long-lasting effects of El Niño are projected to cause an intense fire season in the Amazon, according to the 2016 seasonal fire forecast from scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine.

El Niño conditions in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world. In the Amazon, El Niño reduced rainfall during the wet season, leaving the region drier at the start of the 2016 dry season than any year since 2002, according to NASA satellite data.

Wildfire risk for the dry season months of July to October this year now exceeds fire risk in 2005 and 2010, drought years when wildfires burned large areas of Amazon rainforest, said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who helped create the fire forecast.

“Severe drought conditions at the start of the dry season set the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016 across the southern Amazon,” Morton said.

The Amazon fire forecast uses the relationship between climate and active fire detections from NASA satellites to predict fire season severity during the region’s dry season. Developed in 2011 by scientists at University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the forecast model is focused particularly on the link between sea surface temperatures and fire activity. Warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific (El Niño) and Atlantic oceans shift rainfall away from the Amazon region, increasing the risk of fires during dry season months.

The team also uses data on terrestrial water storage from the joint NASA/German Aerospace Center (DLR) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission to follow changes in groundwater during the dry season. GRACE measurements serve as a proxy for the dryness of soils and forests.

The NASA and UC-Irvine scientists have worked with South American official and scientists to make them aware of the forecast in recent years. Liana Anderson, a Brazilian scientist from the National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), said that “fire forecasts three to six months before peak fire activity are important to identify areas with higher fire probability for integrated planning in support of local actions.”

For 2016, El Niño-driven conditions are far drier than 2005 and 2010 – the last years when the region experienced drought. The team has also developed a web tool to track the evolution of the Amazon fire season in near real time. Estimated fire emissions from each forecast region are updated daily, based on the relationship between active fire detections – made by the Moderate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite – and fire emissions data from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) in previous years. So far, however, the region has seen more fires to date than those years, another indicator that aligns with the fire severity forecast.

“When trees have less moisture to draw upon at the beginning of the dry season, they become more vulnerable to fire, and evaporate less water into the atmosphere,” said UC-Irvine scientist Jim Randerson, who collaborated with UC-Irvine scientist Yang Chen on building the forecast model. “This puts millions of trees under stress and lowers humidity across the region, allowing fires to grow bigger than they normally would.”

Fires in the Amazon have local, regional, and long-distance impacts. Agricultural fires that escape their intended boundaries can damage neighboring croplands and Amazon forests. Even slow-moving forest fires cause severe forest degradation, as Amazon rainforest trees are not adapted to fire. Together, intentional fires for agricultural management, deforestation, and wildfires generate massive smoke plumes that degrade regional air quality, exacerbating problems with asthma and respiratory illness. Smoke from Amazon fires eventually flows south and east over major urban centers in southern Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, contributing to air quality concerns.

While scientists have been working with South American officials to broadcast the results of the fire forecasts and increase awareness of fire risk, they also said that the work could lead to better wildfire forecasts in other regions of the world. The team recently identified 9 regions outside the Amazon where fire season risk can also be forecast 3-6 months ahead of peak fire activity. It may be possible to build operational seasonal fire forecasts for much of Central America and for many countries in Southeast Asia, Randerson said.

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22 thoughts on “El Niño could drive intense season for Amazon fires

    • No your aren’t.

      But what gets me is why anyone would expect a forest, or even a rain forest, to not have extensive fires periodically? To hear the Loons you would think that there were never any fires until man walked the earth.

    • I think that GRACE may have gained a poor reputation among skeptics after being cited as the source of highly unreliable ice loss estimations which are actually primarily derived from GIA models.
      The problem being – that it is not made clear that the adjustments are the main source of the derived rate of loss. So GRACE is not really the source of the final estimate. The model is the primary source.
      Whereas in other situations GRACE may be allowed to provide data that is relatively unmolested.

  1. Rainforests tend to have poor soils due to the leeching effect of high rainfall.
    A fire will provide nutrients for new growth.

  2. rah,

    But what gets me is why anyone would expect a forest, or even a rain forest, to not have extensive fires periodically?

    – because thei’re rainforests? Just heuristics.

  3. My question is:

    Are this ‘models’ ?

    When GRACE is supposedly to deliver real data; and algorithms calculate water distribution over landmasses from measured gravitational fluctuations – ai’nt it just picturing said water distribution on the maps.

    • And Amazon rain forest do not burn. 30 years that I live in the North Amazon and yet to see a forest fire.
      We have been feeling the effect of El Nino since last year with far less than normal amount of rain but the rain is now falling in abundance since may month as it should in our corner.
      I came to climate skepticism after doing some research on the Amazon forest, being tired of all the lies and myths perpetrated. I came to read Patrick Moore who happen to have studied extensively about the sames myths.
      Make no mistakes, the sames misrepresentations that we can spot in the climate arena exist about the rain forest.

  4. “are projected to cause an intense fire season in the Amazon”

    Keep an eye out for AGW priests carrying fire stick to the Amazon.

  5. Whether El Nino is there or not, the long term precipitation cyclessuggest drought conditions since 2002 around 2020 with few exception years. — This is achieved by integrating the main cycles 52, 26, 13 & 6.5 year cycles in 1849 to 1981 precipitation data of NE Brazil.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  6. Isn’t “could” such a wonderful scientific word?
    Anything becomes science just by use of the word “could”.
    Global warming could cause green gnomes to dance around magic toadstools at the bottom of the gardens of people with surnames beginning with Q, R or J.

  7. The purpose of GRACE is political, not scientific.
    GRACE actually stands for:
    Government Rentseeker Arguments for Career Enhancement.

  8. As I understand it, the term El-Nino originated from the appearance of unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off northern Peru and Ecuador, typically in late December, affecting the fishing and leading to unseasonal heavy rain in South America. If those heavy rains don’t occur then that would suggest that whatever weather event had occurred it may not have been an El-Nino.

  9. Umm… What does manmade CO2 emissions have to do with the effects of strong El Nino events?

    Strong El Ninos occur a regular basis, about once every 20 years or so, regardless of CO2 emissions.

    I’m sure alarmists will blame CO2 for stronger and more frequent El Ninos, which they’ll spin to mean any El Nino related forest fires are “caused” by manmade CO2 emissions…

    Oh, goody… I can’t wait..

    That’s right up there with global warming causes global cooling… I can’t wait for that, either…

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