SANTIAGO – The ongoing forest fires in the Amazon are a global disaster. Far outside the green borders of the lush rainforest, the impact of the devastation is felt, including Chile. This is why.
Tens of thousands of fires in the Amazon rainforest – often referred to as “lungs of the world” – are destroying trees, plants and animals. NASA satellite images showed that the smoke the fires cause can be seen from space, and this year the highest number of fires ever was reported in Brazil.
But not only the countries with Amazon rainforests and their diverse nature are feeling the impact of the record-breaking fires: neighboring countries and even other continents will get affected by the aftermath of the environmental disaster, mainly because of the unique role the Amazon plays in the world’s climate. One of the countries that will feel such an impact, right when it struggles with disaster itself, is Chile.
Chile is suffering already from the worst drought in six decades and over fifty municipalities had an agricultural emergency declared as a lack of rainfall severely damaged crops and cattle. The Amazon forest fires are having a direct impact on global water cycles, which means Chile and its agricultural sector should brace for even harder times.
What’s left after the smoke clears up when the fires in the Amazon rainforest have quenched are huge deforested areas, while deforestation and rainfall are directly linked. While large parts of Chile get their rainfall from water that evaporates over the Atlantic Ocean, the northern parts of the country depend on rainfall from the Andes mountains and even further, from the southern forests of the Amazon basin. They depend on what scientists call “recycled water”: water that has already fallen as rain and that recycled back into the air.
Much of that recycling comes from plants and trees, as their roots suck up water and moisture from the ground and release it through their leaves. Fewer plants and trees to contribute in this cycle will cause less rainfall, which parts in northern Chile already suffer.
Forests, especially the tropical ones in the Amazon, have a cooling effect on the climate. As stated by Dominick Spracklen of Leeds University in England, “healthy forests release a range of volatile organic compounds that ‘have an overall cooling effect on our climate,’ mostly by blocking incoming solar energy. Removing forests eliminates this cooling effect and adds to warming.”
The fires in the Amazon have reportedly been started by the agricultural sector in Brazil. This sector emits also its own emissions – a main cause of global warming. According to Natalie Mahowald of Cornell University, tropical deforestation could add 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 – even if we shut down fossil fuel emissions tomorrow.
Chile is already seeing a nationwide increase in temperatures – July was the hottest ever recorded – and ecosystems, fruit and wine sectors that depend on certain climatological circumstances will suffer and cities will see the need to adapt their everyday life even more.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.