By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Newly released data from NASA and the University of California are leading scientists to forecast that forests in the eastern portion of the Amazon region will face above-average risks for fire this year, due to the occurrence of the climate phenomenon known as El Niño. According to NASA officials, the three regions with the highest risks are located in Brazil, specifically in the states of Maranhão, Mato Grosso and Pará.
“We’re building towards a moderate to strong El Niño, that places even more fire risk across portions of the central and eastern Amazon that are more sensitive to El Niño than to changes in the Atlantic,” said Doug Morton, co-investigator on the project on NASA’s website.
The El Niño alters rainfall patterns around the globe and influences the temperature of ocean waters. Due to the El Niño effect, the waters of the Pacific Ocean in 2015 will tend to be warmer than usual while the waters of the Atlantic North will tend to be colder than average.
The increase in temperatures in ocean waters during the humid season leads to a reduction of rainfall and soil humidity at the beginning of the dry season in the Eastern part of the region, while the colder waters helps increase humidity in the Western parts of the Amazon, which include Bolivia and Peru.
Fire season in the Amazon region begins in May, is at its peak in September and ends in January. The fires in the Amazon are usually more intense at the end of the dry season when underground water supplies are at their lowest levels.
The fire risk this year, say scientists, may be greater due to the severe drought registered in the Northeastern and Southeastern regions of Brazil. According to Brazil’s INPE (National Institute for Space Research) from January 1 to July 20, 2015 the number of fires increased in five of the eight Brazilian states that make up Brazil’s Amazon region, with fires in the states of Acre and Rondônia increasing as much as seventy percent in comparison to the same period last year.