• Amazonia;
  • drought;
  • TRMM

[1] There has been an increasing awareness of the possibility of climate change causing increased drought frequency in Amazonia, with ensuing impacts on ecosystems and human populations. This debate has been brought into focus by the 1997/1998 and 2005 Amazonian droughts. We analysed the spatial extent of these droughts and fire response to the 2005 drought with TRMM and NOAA-12 data, respectively. Both droughts had distinct fingerprints. The 2005 drought was characterized by its intensification throughout the dry season in south-western Amazonia. During 2005 the annual cumulative number of hot pixels in Amazonia increased 33% in relation to the 1999–2005 mean. In the Brazilian state of Acre, at the epicentre of the 2005 drought, the area of leakage forest fires was more than five times greater than the area directly deforested. Fire leakage into flammable forests may be the major agent of biome transformation in the event of increasing drought frequency.