MSU professor shares environmental concerns on Amazon fires

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo- The Amazon Rainforest fires have been the talk of the news cycle for about two weeks now.

CBS News reports nearly 10,000 new fires have been reported in a little over a week.

Many are believed to be intentionally set by farmers clearing land, as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has relaxed environmental laws to promote economic expansion in the rainforest.

I talked with Missouri State University Professor D. Alexander Wait about the scientific and biological impacts of the fires. Wait is a plant ecologist and plant physiologist and teaches conservation biology. For about 5 years, from 2008-2012, he took students to learn about the Amazon rainforests in Ecuador.

Alexander Wait took this on one of his many trips to the Amazon

“Tropical forests cover about 4% of the Earth’s surface but 30% of the global primary production. To put that into perspective for someone familiar with Missouri vegetation, woodlands and grasslands are 4% of the Earth’s surface and 6% of global primary production. Cultivated land covers about 4% of the Earth’s surface and is 8% of primary production,” says Dr. Wait.

He says that the Amazon houses the highest bio-diversity on Earth. But as amazing as that is, he says it is extremely fragile. There is only about a foot of soil before you hit layers and layers of clay.

Wait describes a very thin layer of soil for Amazon vegetation to grow on. Most of the ground in this picture is clay.

“I’ve been down there in the dry season, dry season means that it rains a couple of hours a day maybe a couple of times a day. The wet season pretty much just rains all of the time. These fires are occurring during the dry season.”

The Associated Press reports that Brazil’s federal police agency is investigating reports that farmers in the state of Para had called for “a day of fire” earlier this month. More than 77,000 fires in the Amazon have been recorded so far this year, according to the country’s satellite monitoring agency.

“We will together, God willing, find a solution here and we will give the world satisfaction,” says Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

At the G-7 summit, leaders of member countries were nearing an agreement on how to help Brazil battle the fires and repair the damage.

How you can help the Amazon

“It is a marvel of biodiversity and a true oxygen factory. That is why taking care of the Amazon is, of course, the responsibility not only of the Amazon countries but, of the whole world,” says Chilean President Sebastian Pinera

There is some help from the U.S., including a 747 supertanker, now in Bolivia, which can hold up to roughly 19,000 gallons of water per trip.

“Therefore, besides the immediate adding of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through burning, the effects of losing primary productivity is not replaced by agriculture, It is lost for decades even if the land is not converted to agriculture. That is, the amount of carbon dioxide fixed by tropical forests through photosynthesis is of global significance,” says Wait.

NASA’s AIRS Maps Carbon Monoxide from Brazil Fires

Wait brings up a good point that with these fires you are losing plants, animals, and insects that may be helpful in the medical field but are as of right now undiscovered.

“For every hectare or acre of tropical forest that you lose, it’s probably equivalent to 100 in the Ozarks,” says Wait.

Above is a gallery of pictures Wait has taken during his trips to Ecuador.

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