Amazon fire activity in 2020 surpasses 2019

In September, 2020 surpassed 2019 to become the most active fire year in the southern Amazon since 2012, the year that the VIIRS sensor was launched on the Suomi-NPP satellite. So far this year, the VIIRS instrument on Suomi-NPP has detected 574,000 active fires, compared with 509,000 for the same period last year. Importantly, 88% of those fire detections have occurred in just the past 60 days. The upper panel (Fig. 1a) of the graphic below compares VIIRS active fire detections, classified by fire type (colors), to the average fire detections in 2012-2019 during the same time period (black line). Deforestation fires account for >40% of all fire detections in the southern Amazon in 2020, with a growing contribution from understory forest fires in the Brazilian states of Mato Gross and Pará in the past month. Visit the new Amazon Dashboard for more information on this classification approach, or to track individual fire events in the Amazon and surrounding biomes this year.

The lower panel (Fig. 1b) of this graphic shows the cumulative fire activity over the same 60-day period for the entire VIIRS data record from 2012-2020. Whereas fire activity surged in August, 2019 from coordinated burning activity in the Brazilian Amazon, daily fire counts in 2020 were higher in the first weeks of September than in August. Large, multi-day fire events are one reason for this increase in daily fire detections as the dry season progresses in the southern Amazon. As of September 20th, thousands of large fires continued to burn in the southern Amazon, including large understory forest fires that have been burning for weeks in the Xingu River basin in Mato Grosso (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 1: Time series of active fire detections from the VIIRS instrument onboard Suomi-NPP for the southern Amazon biome. (a) 2020 fire detections stratified by fire type and (b) cumulative active fire detections by year, starting in 2012. In both panels, the black line depicts average active fire detections during 2012-2019.
Fig. 2: VIIRS active fire detections (red) on top of a VIIRS true color image highlight fires and smoke across the Xingu River basin (VIIRS image from NASA WorldView on 09/08/2020).

Deforestation pushes 2020 fire activity above average across the Southern Amazon

With support from NASA, scientists have developed a new approach to cluster individual fire detections into fire events and classify each fire event across the southern Amazon and surrounding biomes. Of the three fire types occurring in forested landscapes, deforestation fires showed the largest contribution to VIIRS 375 m satellite fire detections, followed by small clearing and agricultural fires, and understory forest fires. Updated daily, the Amazon Dashboard provides quick access to new information on the location, fire type, start date, spread rate, and duration of individual fire events across the Amazon. For more information, or to explore and download the near-real time data, please see our Amazon dashboard.  

Time series of active fire detections from the VIIRS instruments onboard the NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP satellites, stratified by fire type, for the southern Amazon biome and Southern Hemisphere South America (0° – 25°S). Grassland and savanna fires are excluded from this figure. The black line (right y-axis) depicts average active fire detections from the Suomi-NPP VIIRS instrument during 2012-2019 for all grid cells with >50% tree cover.

2019-20 Australian bushfire season

Cumulative MODIS active fire detections for New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland summed per ‘fire year’ running from July 1st to June 30th in the following year. This fire year, satellite fire detections in New South Wales are more than four times higher than the previous record year (the 2002-03 fire season).  In Victoria, fires are above average at this point in 2019-2020 but have not yet surpassed previous extreme fire years in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007. In Queensland, MODIS fire counts were consistent with previous years, despite large wildfires in southern Queensland, since total fire activity in this state is dominated by savanna fires in northern Queensland, a natural part of these ecosystems.

Download figure data files for: New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.