The study could improve the monitoring of fires in the Brazilian savannah

Publicado em 29 maio 2019

A study by scientists from Brazil, the United States and Portugal investigated the accuracy and consistency of various satellite data collections regarding the location and size of the burnt areas in the Cerrado Forest, the Brazilian Savannah.

The results published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observations and Geoinformation will help to improve the production produced by Programa Queimadas, a program implemented by the Brazilian Institute of Space Research (INPE) to monitor fires and burns by satellite and to calculate and predicting forest fires risk.

The study was related to the Brazilian Fire-Land-Atmospheric System (BrFLAS), a project supported by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP. Her principal researcher was Renata Libonati, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland (USA) and the University of Lisbon (Portugal). The study was also one of the few projects conducted as a follow up to the research of the master of the first author, Julia Abrates Rodriguez.

Several previous studies have shown that fire – which can be used intelligently as part of a properly considered strategy with total zoning and rotating fire schedules – is necessary to restore Cerrado (read more at

Non-selective, often criminal, the use of fire for the elimination of local plants and the preparation of land for crops and extensive livestock farming is another story. "In this case, areas are burnt constantly at very short intervals, almost always in the dry season, and can not survive vegetation. Natural adaptation is impossible," Environmental Engineer Alberto Setzer said. Setzer is an INPE researcher and co-author of the article.

"The most important aspect to consider is atmospheric emissions from ignition. Depending on the year, they can account for between 28% and 75% of total carbon emissions in Brazil, significantly contributing to global estimates, as Brazil ranks seventh amongst countries in the world that are the largest sources of carbon emissions. Even 28% is very important, while 75% is extremely serious, "said Setzer.

"Amazon was the main concern in the past regarding the blaze, but the burning in Cerrado became very alarming. This biome, especially the part known as MaToPiBa [an acronym that designates the area at the intersection between the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia], became a magnet for large-scale agricultural projects. For example, western Bahia suffered a brutal devastating cleanliness, and almost all natural vegetation was removed. "

Setzer noted that this change is very dramatic and fast and that the scientific community is practically unaware of this. Hence, the timeliness of this new study, set to answer the following question: "How many of Cerrado have been burnt?"

Satellite data managed by reliable organizations such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are global in scope and relatively imprecise for the study of regional phenomena, according to Setzer.

"It was in this particular respect that we have tried to improve the quality of the INPE output for use in measuring the burnt areas," said Setzer. "The study shows the limitations and mistakes of both global scale estimates and those made by INPE. The goal was to improve our data to reach more precise information on burnt areas, including which, when and where data, and the emission results ".

The Programa Queimadas Portal provides current data on the subject. With a resolution of 1 km, it is possible to obtain data on the total burning area and burning areas of the biome, year by year and month to month, as well as the percentage of each biome from the total burn. The maps also show fire scars every biome. The portal offers LANDSAT quadrant images, maps and other detailed information about Cerrado with a resolution of 30 m.

"In our study we have calculated the errors and uncertainties of the data provided by satellite images. It is the first study of the type for Cerrado. We are looking at the data more secure for the northern than for the southern Cerrado because the properties in the southern part of the biome are far smaller , so the use of fire occurs on relatively small areas, rather than through very large parts of the land. In the north, in areas like Banan Island, we measure almost continuous fires in areas ranging from 10,000 km2 to which years. This never happens in parts of northern São Paulo or the southern part of Minas Gerais [Southeast Brazil], where the model of land use is completely different. It's an important finding, because it shows that you can not have a single algorithm for the whole biome, "explained Setzer.

At present, Cerrado's influence is greatest in arable land. "Cerrado is virtually destroyed, and the country turns into crops or pastures. In most cases, this is done by violating environmental laws. In Amazon, the law requires 80% of every property must be left untouched. In Cerrado, this The request applies only to 30%, but even that small part is not being implemented, "he said.


For São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)

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This story is posted on: 2019-05-29. To contact the author, use the contact details in the article.