The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

SOURCE: CNN DATE: November 13, 2020 SNIP: The world watched as California and the Amazon went up in flames this year, but the largest tropical wetland on earth has been ablaze for months, largely unnoticed by the outside world. South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have already consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are still not completely under control. The fires have destroyed unique habitats and wrecked the livelihoods of many of the Pantanal’s diverse indigenous communities. But their damaging impact reaches far beyond the region. Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks — ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle. When these carbon-rich ecosystems burn, vast amounts of heat-trapping gases are released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 21,200 fires in the Pantanal biome so far this year, a figure that is already 69% higher than the full-year record from 2005, when INPE recorded roughly 12,500 fires. There were 8,106 fires in September alone — more than four times the historic average for the month. The Pantanal’s distinctive habitats rely on what scientists call the “flood pulse.” During the wet season between November and March, three quarters of the plain gets flooded, only for much of the water to...
Dying birds and the fires: scientists work to unravel a great mystery

Dying birds and the fires: scientists work to unravel a great mystery

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 18, 2020 SNIP: The yellow Townsend Warbler lay lifeless on the gravel ground near Grant county, New Mexico, the eyes in its yellow-striped head closed, its black feathery underbelly exposed. Just days before, the migrating bird – weighing 10 grams, or the equivalent of two nickels – might have been as far north as Alaska. But it met an untimely demise in the American south-west, with thousands of miles still to go before reaching Central America, its destination for the winter. The warbler is one of hundreds of thousands of birds that have recently turned up disoriented or dead across the region, where ornithologists have described birds “falling from the sky”. The mass die-off has been tentatively attributed to the historic wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington in recent months, which may have forced birds to rush their migration. But scientists do not know for sure – in part because nobody knows precisely how wildfire smoke affects birds. A photo of the dead warbler was uploaded to iNaturalist, a crowd-sourced app used to identify plants and animals, as part of the Southwest Avian Mortality Project, a collaboration between New Mexico State University and others that invited users to crowd-source information about the die-off. The project has now logged more than 1,000 observed dead birds, encompassing 194 species – data that is being shared with the researchers to better understand what led to such a major mortality event. Rodney Siegel is the executive director of the Institute for Bird Populations, a non-profit group that works with professional scientists and amateur naturalists to monitor bird populations...
Wildlife Species Being Threatened by Continued Wildfires in the Western US

Wildlife Species Being Threatened by Continued Wildfires in the Western US

SOURCE: Nature World News DATE: October 1, 2020 SNIP: The wildfires this year have so far been the worst wildfire season on the West coast within the last seven decades, with around three million hectares in Washington, California, and Oregon burned. The fires killed 35 people and maybe more, devastated structures, and caused pollution which threatened millions. Scientists fear the damage to wildlife species as well as ecosystems. Habitat loss can make small populations and species with limited ranges extinct. Burned ecosystems may not rebound from the changing climate, which may cause permanent changes in the landscape ecology. Researchers do not yet know how many wildlife species are in danger. Biologists estimate that the wildfires already killed 50% of Washington’s pygmy rabbits, which are endangered species. Their habitats are the sagebrush flats which were destroyed. Scientists think that roughly 50 of these rabbits, the smallest in North America, are still alive. The flames are also believed to have decimated 30 to 70 per cent of Washington’s sharp-tailed grouse and sage grouse, who are also dependent on the sagebrush flats. Meanwhile, according to RMRS or Rocky Mountain Research Station wildlife biologist Vicki Saab, in California and the Pacific North-west, the white-headed woodpecker’s pine forest habitat is also in danger. The same is true for the oak and pine forests of northern Mexico and Southwest US, home of Grace’s warbler. New Mexico has also seen the smoke of the fires may cause thousands of scattered dead birds, which researchers speculate. They may have succumbed to respiratory ailments. Alternately, they may have also left their feeding grounds before accumulating enough fuel for...
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest suffers worst fires in a decade

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest suffers worst fires in a decade

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 1, 2020 SNIP: Fires in Brazil’s Amazon increased 13% in the first nine months of the year compared with a year ago, as the rainforest region experiences its worst rash of blazes in a decade, data from space research agency Inpe has shown. Satellites in September recorded 32,017 hotspots in the world’s largest rainforest, a 61% rise from the same month in 2019. In August last year, surging fires in the Amazon captured global headlines and prompted criticism from world leaders such as France’s Emmanuel Macron that Brazil was not doing enough to protect the rainforest. Data from Inpe released on Thursday showed that in 2019, fires spiked in August and declined considerably the month after, but this year’s peak has been more sustained. Both August and September of 2020 have matched or surpassed last year’s single-month high. “We have had two months with a lot of fire. It’s already worse than last year,” said Ane Alencar, science director for Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam). “It could get worse if the drought continues. We are at the mercy of the rain.” The Amazon is experiencing a more severe dry season than last year, which scientists attribute in part to warming in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean pulling moisture away from South America. The entire Amazon, which spans nine countries, currently has 28,892 active fires, according to a fire monitoring tool funded in part by the US space agency, Nasa. The fires in September are not only burning recently deforested areas and farmland, where ranchers set them to clear land, but are also increasingly...
After the blazes: Poisoned water and ‘a flood on steroids’

After the blazes: Poisoned water and ‘a flood on steroids’

SOURCE: E&E News DATE: September 11, 2020 SNIP: Historic wildfires raging from California to Colorado are weakening watersheds and setting the stage for deadly mudslides and flooding and, in some places, threatening to poison critical water supplies. Fueled by record-setting temperatures and strong winds, blazes are wreaking havoc in the West, decimating entire towns like Malden in eastern Washington state, where 80% of the homes and structures — from the fire station to city hall — were burned to the ground. But the fires don’t just pose a threat to things that burn. More intense and larger fires are also shifting the very ground in Western states. Severe wildfires can change the hydrologic response of a watershed so quickly that even a relatively modest rainstorm can trigger flash floods and steep terrain debris flows, said Jason Kean, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program in Golden, Colo. “A debris flow is kind of like a flood on steroids,” said Kean. “It’s all bulked up with rocks, mud, boulders, and then it becomes a different animal that can be even more destructive than a flood.” Burned and denuded land no longer has the vegetative root structure to help stabilize the soil and is easily eroded by rain. Another lesser-known threat to the region’s water is gaining attention in urban areas affected by wildfires: chemical contamination. In cities that have experienced devastating fires, water officials are finding cancer-causing benzene and other volatile organic compounds in contaminated and fire-damaged water infrastructure. Such was the case in the Northern California town of Santa Rosa after the Tubbs Fire in...