Smoke pollutions impacts in Amazonia

Publicado en Science, 369 (6504). pp. 634-635

Oliveira, G. and Chen, J.M. and Stark, S.C. and Berenguer, E. and Moutinho, P. and Artaxo, P. and Anderson, L.O. and Aragão, L.E

Año de publicación 2020
  • Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
  • Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
  • Department of Forestry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
  • Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
  • Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
  • Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), Brasília, DF, Brazil.
  • Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA 02540, USA.
  • Institute of Physics, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil.
  • National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), São José dos Campos, SP, Brazil.
  • National Institute for Space Research (INPE), São José dos Campos, SP, Brazil.
  • Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.
  • Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (grant SGP-HW 017)
Proyecto SGP-HW 017


The combination of increasing Amazon deforestation and the specter of drought now threatens widespread fire and respiratory health risks that could worsen the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, endangering all Amazonians, but particularly vulnerable traditional and rural peoples. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between January and June (3070 km2) was 25% higher than it was during the same period in 2019 (2446 km2) and 46% higher than the 4-year average of January through June from 2016 to 2019 (2108 km2). Within Indigenous lands, which make up 23% of the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation quadrupled in the past 4 years (from 105 km2 in 2016 to 497 km2 in 2019). Fire is intrinsic to the deforestation process&mdashforest is left to dry after cutting and then burned to prepare for agriculture. The majority of deforested land in 2020, and 45% of the trees cut in 2019, has remained unburned. Between July and December this year, under dry conditions, most of this land will be set ablaze. Current indices predict a severe western Amazon drought in mid- to late 2020. In drought years, deforestation fires often escape into surrounding forest understories. The smoke arising in large quantities from both deforestation and understory fires is extremely toxic, causing shortness of breath, coughing, and lung damage. Fires in the Amazon are responsible for 80% of increases in fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) regionally, affecting 24 million Amazonians. The likely relationship between air pollutants linked to fire, such as PM2.5, and COVID-19 infection suggests that fire could aggravate the current COVID-19 crisis in Amazonia, where infection rates are already high (1 in 100 in June). Indigenous peoples are at particular risk, given that they are currently suffering COVID-19 mortality rates that are 1.5 times the Brazil-wide average. To avoid a combination of smoke and COVID-19 that could be catastrophic, Brazil must repeat in 2020 its past successes as an international leader curbing deforestation and fire. A moratorium on deforestation and associated burning in at-risk areas and strong enforcement from current infrastructure are urgently needed.