Drought-Stressed Forest Fueled Amazon Fires
06 November 2019
A new satellite-based map of a section of the Amazon Basin reveals that at least some of the massive fires burning there this past summer were concentrated in water-stressed areas of the rainforest. The stressed plants released measurably less water vapor into the air than unstressed plants; in other words, they were struggling to stay cool and conserve water, leaving them more vulnerable to the fires.
The fires in the Amazon Basin, which continue to burn into November, are mainly the result of such human activities as land clearing and deforestation. The pattern — spotted from space by NASA's ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) — points to how water-stressed plants can impact the spread of fires. The data may one day help NASA's Earth-observing missions predict the path of future forest or brush fires like those currently raging in California.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Earth Observatory - This satellite image, taken by NASA's Earth-observing Terra satellite on 18 August 2019, shows the ECOSTRESS study area in the Amazon Basin and smoke from active fires in the rainforest.