Extensive vegetation burnings could bee seen on the Brazilian satellite imagery in the last months. The current image can be seen below.
Fig. 1: NOAA AVHRR image of the Brazilian vegetation fires of 22.10.98
Natural fires play a minor role in the tropical rain forest of Brazil and neighbouring countries as compared to human-caused vegetation fires. In the seasonally dry forests and bush formations (cerrado) lightning fires are observed occasionally. These fires have predominantly three reasons (J.G.Goldammer and S.Manan 1996):
Shifting agriculture (slash-and -burn agriculture), where land is allowed to return to forest vegetation after a relatively short period of agricultural use;
Temporary complete removal of forest cover for preparation of forest plantations (monocultures); and
Permanent conversion of forests to grazing or crop land, as well as other non-forestry land uses
The fires in Brazil must been seen under the context of intensive land development. Fire is used as a tool in forest conversion. This is done by small farmers as well as large agro-industrial companies. The careless use of fire often allow these “prescribed” burnings to escape and become wildfires in the adjacent forests. These wildfires are of global importance because they threaten global biodiversity as well as the livelihood and cultural identity of the indigenous people in Amazonia. Several news reports were issued in this year with the dramatic situation for the Yanomani Indians and the Xingu Indians. Wildfires set intentionally were burning at the border or in the declared National Parks and Indian Reserves. See selected press coverage below:
Fig.2. Slash and Burn practices in Brazil
Fig.3. Spot/Landsat Image of forest conversion in Amazonia
Several reports were conducted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the fires in Brazil. The reports can be viewed under UN Projects and Programmes. For further information on UN OCHA refer to the ReliefWeb (http://wwwnotes.reliefweb.int/).
The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) provides real-time satellite imagery about the fire events in Brazil, a very valuable resource, this page is currently only available in Portuguese, but will soon have an english version as well. (http://www.cptec.inpe.br/products/queimadas/queimap.html)
A detailed study on the Spatio-temporal dynamics of the Boa Vista-Roraima fire events by the Space Applications Institute of the Joint Research Centre European Commission for the CLAIRE/LBA study can be seen at (http://www.mtv.sai.jrc.it/parbo/Roraima_Web.html)
The Brazilian Environmental Monitoring Centre (NMA) EcoForca is an Brazilian NGO which gives extensive information about issues like deforestation, forest fires etc. in Brazil this site gives a good back ground to the current situation in Brazil.