17.5% of Brazil has already burned at least once in 20 years

Thursday, December 3, 2020.

Most fire strikes native vegetation; civil society initiative launched this Thursday (3/12) maps fire scars across the territory

Over the past 20 years, 1.5 million square kilometers of Brazil, or about 17.5% of its territory, have burned at least once. It is almost the entire Northeast region. When it caught fire, most of the area, 68%, was covered by native vegetation, while 32% was used for agriculture, including activities such as clearing pastures, clearing and recently deforested land. On average, an area of ​​177,000 km2 burns every year, or 2.1% of the country.

The unpublished data are part of an initiative launched today (3/12), the MapBiomas Fogo. For the first time, information is consolidated on the area burned each year in the country, from 2000 to 2019, with location, frequency and type of coverage and associated land use, such as forest, savanna, agriculture or pasture, among others. It is part of the 5th annual collection of land cover and land use maps of Brazil by the MapBiomas project, available at http://plataforma.mapbiomas.org.

More than 330 thousand km² of the forests existing today in Brazil have caught fire in the last 20 years and of these, 195,000 km2 (59%) have burned twice or more. “Rain forest fires are not natural. It is mainly caused by human action fueled by a drier environment, which makes the fire escape from a pasture or a deforested area, for example, and enter the forest”, explains the director of Science of IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research of the Amazônia), Ane Alencar, coordinator of the group that did the work. "The high frequency in some regions reinforces the role of man in this degradation process."

This is the case in the Amazon: 28.7% of the total area burned in 20 years was recorded there, in an environment where fire should be rare – half of the 427,000 km2 affected burned more than once in the same place. Without man, fire in this biome occurs every 500 to thousand years.

In terms of area, the Cerrado was the most affected biome in the period: 41% of its extension was affected by fire at least once, and 76% of what burned there was native vegetation. “The Cerrado, unlike the Amazon, is a biome that evolved with fire. Even so, the transformations in the landscape can have an impact on the incidence of fires”, explains Alencar.

When looking at land tenure aspects, 59% of the area burned over the last 20 years was within private areas, 18% in protected areas and 6% in settlements.

Discharge in 2019

Last year, more than 203 thousand km2 were burned, representing 2.4% of the territory, of which 72% took place in native vegetation and 28% in areas of agricultural use. The area burned in 2019 was 55% larger than in 2018, when the fire scars totaled 130.5 thousand km2.

When we look at the growth by biome, the Pantanal showed an unbelievable 996% increase in burned area in 2019 compared to 2018. In the Amazon, the burned area grew 65%. In the Cerrado, the expansion of the area affected by the fire was 40%.

“Mapping is fundamental for understanding the fire regime in Brazil, which leads to the degradation of native vegetation and has an impact on people's health, climate change, biodiversity and the economy,” says the coordinator of MapBiomas, Tasso Azevedo.

The MapBiomas Fogo platform will make available fire scar data each year from 2000 to 2019, indicating the affected land use coverage. Data on accumulated areas and frequency of scars are also available for each of the biomes, states, municipalities, hydrographic basins and protected areas in Brazil.

MapBiomas is a multi-institutional initiative, involving universities, NGOs and technology companies, focused on monitoring changes in land cover and land use in Brazil. This platform is today the most complete, up-to-date and detailed spatial database of land use in a country available in the world. Other MapBiomas initiatives are under development in Indonesia, the entire Pan-Amazon, as well as Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay. All data, maps, methods and codes of MapBiomas are made available publicly and free of charge on the initiative's website: mapbiomas.org

More information for the press:
Cristina Amorim: cristina.amorim@ipam.org.br