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A River of Smoke

A River of Smoke

For much of August and September 2019, satellites observed large numbers of fires burning in Bolivia’s lowlands. According to one estimate, as much as 5.3 million hectares (13.1 million acres) of Bolivia has burned, an area nearly the size of Costa Rica.

On September 28, 2019, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of smoke streaming south toward Paraguay. Much of the most intense fire activity has been concentrated in the dry Chiquitano and Chaco forests and shrublands of eastern and southern Bolivia. Grasslands in the Beni savanna region to the north and the Pantanal wetlands in eastern Bolivia also have seen large numbers of fires.

While many of the fires have burned in or around areas where land had already been cleared and converted into pasture or cropland, some fires burned deep in natural ecosystems and even national parks and other protected areas. According to one estimate, 24 percent of the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area, 32 percent of Otuquis National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area, and 34 percent of the Ñembi Guasu Area of Conservation and Ecological Importance have burned.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.

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