Flames are spreading across the Amazon rainforest this summer, spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day. But scientists say thats not their biggest concern. Theyre far more worried about what the fires represent: a dramatic increase in illegal deforestation that could deprive the world of a critical buffer against climate change.
More than a soccer fields worth of Amazon forest is falling every minute, according to Brazils National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE. Preliminary estimates from satellite data revealed that deforestation in June rose almost 90% compared with the same month last year, and by 280% in July.
The Amazon is a key component of Earths climate system. It holds about a quarter as much carbon as the entire atmosphere and single-handedly absorbs about 5% of all the CO2 we emit each year.