Fires in Western Amazonia

EICES, E3B, IRI

Large fires escaped from fields and pastures have become common dry season events ravaging forests, farms and settlements in much of Amazonia. Such destructive fires have recently become a major problem along the upper Ucayali River in the lowland Peruvian Amazon, where burning has been used for centuries to manage agricultural fields, and more recently, to clear and clean pastures. While large mosaics of small agricultural fields, diverse gardens and extensive mature forests are still present, these landscapes are being rapidly transformed by clearing for large-scale plantation agriculture (especially biofuel production), by extensive ranching, and by new smaller-scale land uses.

Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability’s director of international programs, along with scholars and researchers from Columbia’s Department of Evolution, Ecology and Environmental Biology and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, will investigate processes of change in land use, migration, urbanization and climate and their links to the probability of changes in the incidence, size and severity of escaped fires using the tools of the natural, social and atmospheric sciences. Models will link these multiple, complex and non-linear processes to change in the probability of uncontrolled fires. The work will have implications not only for much of Amazonia, but also for other tropical developing regions.

In many places, farmers and developers are using fire on massive scales to clear forests. The practice has powerful implications for climate, ecosystems and air quality. Explore this global issue with a visit to the area around the Peruvian Amazon frontier town of Pucallpa.

Watch Burning the Land: Manmade Fires in the Amazon, and Beyond.