Satellite imagery of Amazon rainforest fire shows massive carbon monoxide pollution plume


The Amazon rainforest is burning, with hundreds of wildfires in Brazil and Bolivia with no sign of them being contained anytime soon, sparking outrage across the world.  New satellite imagery from NASA shows an enormous cloud of poisonous carbon monoxide rising from the devastation.

Amazon rainforest is burning, with hundreds of wildfires in Brazil and Bolivia

NASA’s Aqua satellite has captured new data showing the movement of carbon monoxide associated with fires in the Amazon region of Brazil.

NASA’s map shows levels of the pollutant at an altitude of 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) between August 8 and August 22, 2019. Green indicates concentrations of carbon monoxide at approximately 100 parts per billion by volume (ppbv); yellow, at about 120 ppbv; and red, at about 160 ppbv.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that’s produced when anything made out of carbon, whether it’s vegetation or fossil fuel, is combusted with an insufficient supply of air or oxygen. It’s most often associated with gas-burning fires in stuffy rooms, but it can also be produced as a result of forest fires.

This time series shows carbon monoxide associated with fires from the Amazon region in Brazil from Aug. 8-22, 2019. Made with data collected from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, the images map carbon monoxide at approximately 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) altitude. Each “day” in the series is made by averaging three day’s-worth of measurements. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The images were taken from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument, aboard the Aqua satellite, and show the cloud evolving between Aug. 8 and Aug. 22. It starts first over Brazil, where the majority of the rainforest is located, and ultimately spreads to most of the northern part of South America.

“A pollutant that can travel large distances, carbon monoxide can persist in the atmosphere for about a month,” NASA wrote on its website. “At the high altitude mapped in these images, the gas has little effect on the air we breathe; however, strong winds can carry it downward to where it can significantly impact air quality. Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and climate change.”

The vast specter changes colors, going from green to yellow to red, which represents a rather large increase in carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. NASA said that green indicates concentrations of approximately 100 parts per billion by volume (ppbv), while yellow is indicative of 120 ppbv and dark red of 160 ppbv.

Brazil’s Amazon has experienced over 41,850 fires so far this year, as of August 24. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has detected 85 percent more forest fires this year than in the same period in 2018, however, the fires are well within the historical range of the past 20 years. INPE data, analyzed by Mongabay, shows that there were more fires in the Brazilian Amazon (from January to August) in the years 2010, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most important biomes on our planet, playing a key role in maintaining natural processes on Earth. As these fires are a testament to, the rainforest in Brazil is facing an ever-growing crisis that’s only set to deepen given the sitting president’s lax attitude towards environmental regulations and his administration’s close ties to agribusiness.