Fewer wildfires forecast in Amazon Basin

May 10, 2012 at 5:46 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., May 10 (UPI) -- Amazon Basin forests should be less vulnerable to wildfires this year, the first forecast from a new fire severity model developed by U.S. researchers says.

The new model created by scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, which forecasts the fire season's severity from three to nine months in advance, calls for an average or below-average fire season this year in 10 regions spanning Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.

Fire season across most of the Amazon rain forest usually begins in May, hits a high in September and ends in January.

"Tests of the model suggested that predictions should be possible before fire activity begins in earnest," said Doug Morton, a co-investigator on the project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"This is the first year to stand behind the model and make an experimental forecast, taking a step from the scientific arena to share this information with forest managers, policy makers, and the public alike," he said in a NASA release Thursday.

The model, based on nine years of fire data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the Terra satellite and records of sea surface temperatures from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has established a connection between sea surface temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and fire activity in South America.

Those temperatures are currently cooler than normal and are changing patterns of atmospheric circulation which should increase rainfall across the southern Amazon in the months leading up to the fire season, researchers said.

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