Monitoring fires in southwestern Amazonia Rain Forests



From mid-July to mid-October 2005, an environmental disaster unfolded in the trinational region of Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; and Pando, Bolivia (the MAP region), in southwestern Amazonia. A prolonged dry season and human-initiated fires resulted in smoke pollution affecting more than 400,000 persons, fire damage to over 300,000 hectares of rain forest, and over US$50 million of direct economic losses. Indicatorrs suggest that anomalous drought conditions could occur again this year.

In May 2005, river levels, were the lowest in 34 years in Rio Branco,Acre, Brazil, signaling that the subsequent dry season would be unusual. Rainfall became virtually absent for several months, not only in eastern Acre but also in the neighboring Bolivian department of Pando and the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios. This enhanced dry season extended over much of western Amazonia with severe societal impact; by October 2005, regional governments had declared states of emergency in Pando, Acre, and Amazonas, an area covering more than a million square kilometers. Whereas previous droughts could be linked to El Niño events [Williams et al., 2005; Marengo, 2004]], J. A. Marengo et al. (The drought of Amazonia in 2005, manuscript in preparation, 2006) suggest that this drought was not related to El Niño but was instead associated with anomalously warm surface water in the tropical North Atlantic, similar to a previous drought in 1963–1964.