Dozens of fires speckled the landscape of southern South American in mid-November, 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard captured this true-color image of the landscape on November 13, 2013.
The fires cluster heavily in Paraguay, the country located at the top center of the image. A few burn in Bolivia (east) and southern Brazil, especially in the green land along the Brazilian borders with Bolivia and Paraguay. Several fires can be seen in Uruguay, which sits along the coast and north of the sediment-filled Rio de la Plata. Red hotspots, marking fires, also speckle Argentina.
Examining the image at 250 m resolution shows that most of the hotspots, especially in Paraguay, are associated with the rectangular shapes that are unique to areas of human activity. These are areas where the dark green rainforest is being cleared for human use – primarily agriculture.
In early September, 2013, the Paraguayan government announced it was extending what is known as the “Zero Deforestation Law” for a further five years. This law, more formally known as The Land Conversion Moratorium for the Atlantic Forest of Paraguay, was initially enacted in 2004, and has effectively slowed the country’s deforestation rate. Prior to this act, Paraguay had the second highest deforestation rate in the world. The law, however, applies only to the Atlantic Forest, a highly endangered and sensitive ecoregion in South America. Part of the Atlantic Forest is found in the eastern section of Paraguay, where relatively few fires burn. In the central and western sections of the country, however, deforestation continues at a rapid rate.
The Atlantic Forest is located in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. With over 7 million hectares of forest already lost to slash-and-burn methods of agriculture and ranching, only 7 percent of the original surface remains – and this forest is heavily fragmented. Despite the deforestation and fragmentation, the Atlantic Forest claims extraordinarily biodiversity. It is home to roughly 7 percent of the world’s plant and animal species, with many endemic species and many highly endangered species relying on the habitat for their continued existence.