Carbon released by fires raging in the Amazon rainforest could be directly contributing to the melting of tropical glaciers in the Andes, scientists claim.
The burning of biomass in southwestern Amazonia releases aerosols such as black carbon, which blow from the Amazon Basin (the Brazilian, Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon) to the Bolivian Zongo Glacier.
These dark carbon pieces then settle in the snow, and may speed up the melting of the Andean glaciers, according to researchers from Rio de Janeiro State University.
This is because snow that is darkened by black carbon or dust particles reflects less light and is therefore absorbs more heat - melting faster.
Newton de Magalhães Neto and colleagues modelled the possible effect by using data collected between 2000 and 2016 on fire events, the movement of smoke plumes, precipitation and glacier melting.
Focusing their analyses on the years 2007 and 2010 when fire seasons were the most critical for the Amazon Basin, the authors investigated the snow's lack of light reflection due to being covered in black carbon alone or black carbon in the presence of previously reported quantities of dust.
Their model showed that black carbon or dust alone had the potential to increase annual glacier melting by three to four per cent or by six per cent when both were present.
If dust concentrations were high, dust alone had the potential to increase annual melting by 11 to 13 per cent and by 12 to 14 per cent in the presence of black carbon.
The findings suggest that the impact of Amazon biomass burning depends on how much of the dust from the fires ends up in the snow.
Pressure related to global food demand may result in further expansion of Brazilian agriculture - which often means the burning of forest for quick deforestation.
This could result in enhanced black carbon and CO2 emissions that may impact Andean glaciers as explained.
The study was published by Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil in Scientific Reports.
Destruction of the Amazon is at its worst in DECADE
By Ryan Morrison
The level of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is at its worst in more than a decade, according to a new report by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.
Between August 2018 and July 2019 there was more than 3,700 square miles of deforestation of the Brazilian part of the rainforest, up 30% on the previous year.
The area of deforestation is the largest recorded since 2008 and is about the size of the US states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Environment Minister Ricardo Salles will meet with the Amazon region´s governors Thursday to discuss efforts to contain deforestation.
He says illegal mining, logging and land-grabbing cause most deforestation.
Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro's administration has spent a lot of energy attacking concerns raised by environmentalists about the scale of deforestation, including firing the former head of the Brazilians space research institute.
His administration has advocated the loosening of protections around natural reserves and indigenous lands as a way to promote economic development.
In August, the head of the space research institute, Ricardo Galvão, was fired shortly after President Bolsonaro accused his agency of manipulating deforestation data to make the government look bad.
The president later suggested, without citing evidence, that non-governmental groups could be setting some of the fires in the Amazon to draw attention to his administration.
The annual data published by the space research agency confirms the institute´s earlier reports that deforestation was on the rise.
The latest data is actually 42% higher than what was previously reported.
'It is unacceptable that the Amazon is still being destroyed,' the WWF conservation group said in a statement.
In July and August, fires in the Amazon region spread at a pace unseen since 2010, before slowing in September.
Farmers, developers and others often use fire to clear deforested land for soy production or pastures.
'President Bolsonaro's anti-environmental agenda favours those who practice environmental crimes, and encourages violence against forest people.
'His administration is trashing practically all the work that has been done in recent decades to protect the environment and end deforestation', said Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon Campaigner.
The Brazilian government has denied any wrongdoing and says it is taking all the steps needed to protect the Amazon.
As fires raged a few months ago, President Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some blazes and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for two months.
Fires in the Amazon eventually fell below the monthly average in September.
According to the latest report, the Brazilian state of Para accounted for nearly 40% of all deforestation during the 2018-19 period but illegal logging increased markedly in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, officials said.
The report is preliminary, and its data will be confirmed next year.