The Amazon is being rapidly transformed by fire. Logging and forest fragmentation sharply elevate fire incidence by increasing forest desiccation and fuel loads, and forests that have experienced a low-intensity surface fire are vulnerable to far more catastrophic fires. Satellites typically detect thermal signatures from 40 000 to 50 000 separate fires in the Amazon each year, and this number could increase as new highways and infrastructure expand across the basin. Many are concerned that large-scale deforestation, by reducing regional evapotranspiration and creating moisture-trapping smoke plumes, will make the basin increasingly vulnerable to fire. The Amazon may also be affected by future global warming and atmospheric changes, although much remains uncertain. Most models suggest the basin will become warmer throughout this century, although there is no consensus about how precipitation will be affected. The most alarming scenarios project a permanent disruption of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, leading to greatly increased drought or destructive synergisms between regional and global climate change in the Amazon.
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Vol. 37 • No. 7