Pantanal lost 29% of water surface area, between the 1988/1989 flood and the last one, in 2018

The largest wetland on the planet is drier. The difference between the total area covered by water and flooded grasslands recorded in the 1988/1989 flood and the 2018 flood is 29%. In the first flood recorded in the historical series of satellite images analyzed by MapBiomas, this total was 5.9 million hectares. In the last one, in 2018, the area reached only 4.1 million hectares. In 2020, this figure was 1.5 million hectares, the lowest in the last 36 years. These and other data were presented in a webinar this Wednesday, September 29, on the MapBiomas channel on Youtube.

The drier Pantanal is also more susceptible to fire. Wet periods favor the development of herbaceous, shrub, aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, accumulating biomass. In the dry season, the dry vegetation becomes fuel for fire. Of all the Brazilian biomes, the Pantanal was the one that burned the most in the last 36 years: 57% of its territory burned at least once in the period, or 86,403 km². Areas of grassland vegetation and savannahs were the most affected, accounting for more than 75% of the burned areas. In all, 93% of the fire in the period occurred in native vegetation; only 7% occurred in anthropic areas. In 2020 more than 2.3 million hectares were burned; since 1985 this figure is only smaller than the area burned in 1999, with 2.5 million hectares.

"The conservation of the Pantanal, its culture and traditional use depend on the flood cycles and on the rivers that originate in the Plateau region, where the headwaters of the Upper Paraguay River Basin are located," explains Eduardo Rosa, from MapBiomas. While 83.8% of the plain was covered by native vegetation in 2020, in the plateau, this was only 43.4% of the territory. Degraded pastures, the lack of forests that protect springs and rivers, and the construction of hydroelectric power plants affect the flow of the rivers, which also suffer from the deposition of sediments that reduce the flow of the water, on the plateau and on the plain. 

Anthropic use in the Pantanal grew 261% between 1985 and 2020, gaining 1.8 million hectares. In this period, the pasture area in the Upper Paraguay Basin doubled, from 15.9% in 1985 to 30.9% in 2020.  Agriculture, in turn, quadrupled, from 1.2% in 1985 to 4.9% in 2020. Savanna formation, on the other hand, fell from 24.4% in 1985 to 18% in 2020. In 2020, 40% of the Upper Paraguay Basin has agricultural use. 

About MapBiomas

MapBiomas is a multi-institutional initiative that brings together universities, NGOs and technology companies that have joined forces to contribute to the understanding of the transformations of the Brazilian territory through the annual mapping of land use and land cover in Brazil. In August 2021, Collection 6 of MapBiomas was published with maps of land cover and land use in Brazil from 1985 to 2020. The tool developed by MapBiomas for all its initiatives provides information generated at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. The data is processed using automatic classification algorithms by means of information in the Google Earth Engine cloud.

Access the main highlights of the Pantanal biome.

Download the biomes infographic here.

Watch how the webinar for data presentation went: