Biomass burning along the border between Bolivia (left) and Brazil (top and right) has been intense and widespread for more than two months. This true-color image acquired on September 14, 2004, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows a large number of fires (red dots) are still burning, producing a thick pall of smoke that obscures the landscape over much of central South America.
Such large-scale burning in the Amazon Rainforest is not a natural occurrence, and the forest is not well adapted to fire, unlike the pine- and fir-dominated forests of the western United States. As people use slash-and-burn deforestation to create new farmland, the impacts are felt far beyond the location of the fire. The smoke inhibits cloud formation and rainfall, and causes the rain that does fall to come down in heavier outbursts. Fires escape control and invade managed timber plantations, undisturbed forest, and permanent agriculture.