The 2020 fire season in the Amazon rain forest could be far worse than in 2019, researchers say, partly because of the same climate conditions that are fueling an active hurricane season to the north.
Last August, a spate of enormous, human-set fires in the Amazon sent smoke billowing over the Brazilian city of São Paulo, turning day into night and prompting an international outcry. But while those fires were unusual and alarming, the situation could have been far worse if the Amazon had been in a drought.
Unfortunately, drier-than-average conditions are exactly what’s being forecastfor the southern Amazon this year, thanks in part to an unusual buildup of heat in the tropical North Atlantic, thousands of miles away.
That oceanic heat has also caused the Atlantic hurricane season to get off to a record fast start, a harbinger of what is predicted to be an unusually busy season. Some research suggests a causal link between hurricanes themselves and bad Amazonian fire years — although that is a matter of greater debate.
“What I think is happening is the ocean is forcing both of those conditions,” says Chris Landsea, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. “It’s forcing active Atlantic hurricane years, and at the same time causing fires to be likely in the Amazon.”
Doug Morton, a NASA Earth scientist who co-created a seasonal fire forecast for the Amazon, says the rain forest faces the “perfect storm” of conditions for...