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Brazil

August 5, 2011
The skies over the Amazon were relatively free of clouds and only lightly covered with haze on July 31, 2011 when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite passed over the region, capturing this true-color image of verdant green forests interrupted by a broad swath of deforestation.

In the far north of the image, the rainforest can be seen as a carpet of bright green, interrupted only by rivers. The most notable of these rivers is the broad, braided Rio Negro, seen emerging from under a cover of cloud. This river, the largest black water river in the world, flows into the sandy-colored Amazon River near the city of Manaus. The waters flow side by side for 6 km (3.7 mi) without mixing due to differences in temperature, speed and water density of the two waters. This half-tan, half-black confluence is so well demarcated that it can be seen from space.

In the south, extensive land-cover change can be seen where forest is being harvested and turned into agricultural land, typically soybean or cattle pasture. Here the green forest gives way to tan land, often with remnant stripes of green marking small stands of timber yet to be cut. Ultimately, the deforestation in these areas will be complete. In some areas, red hotspots mark fires, typically used to burn debris and stumps.

In the upper right (northeast) of the image, deforestation has begun just south of the silt-laden Amazon River. Here the typical pattern of early deforestation can clearly be seen. First a broad road is cut into the wilderness, which allows heavy equipment access to the forest. Trees are then harvested in swaths roughly perpendicular to the road, to facilitate removal of the timber. The swaths may later intersect, and then others may be started perpendicular to the initial swaths, sometimes giving a herringbone pattern where the trees are systematically removed.

In early August, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 17 percent in June compared to the same period a year earlier. The peak deforestation months - July through September/October - have just begun, yet deforestation in 2011 is already rapidly outpacing last year's rate, which was reported to be the lowest since annual record keeping began in the late 1980's. The increased pace is likely driven by higher commodity prices and anticipation of changes to Brazil's Forest Code.


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