A record amount of the world's largest tropical wetland has been lost to the fires sweeping Brazil this year, scientists said, devastating a delicate ecosystem that is one of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet.
The enormous fires - often set by ranchers and farmers to clear land, but exacerbated by unusually dry conditions in recent weeks - have engulfed more than 10% of the Brazilian wetland, known as the Pantanal, exacting a toll scientists call unprecedented.
The fires in the Pantanal, in southwest Brazil, raged across an estimated 20,360 sq km between January and last month, according to an analysis conducted by Nasa for The New York Times, based on a new system to track fires in real time using satellite data. That is an area slightly larger than New Jersey.
The previous record was in 2005, when about 11,935 sq km burned in the biome during the same period.
To the north, the fires in the Brazilian Amazon - many of them also deliberately set for commercial clearing - have been ruinous as well. The amount of Brazilian rainforest lost to fires this year has been similar to the scale of the destruction last year, when the problem drew global condemnation.
The enormous scale of the fires in the Amazon and the Pantanal, several of which were visible to astronauts in space, has drawn less attention in a year overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming US election.
But experts called this year's blazes a particularly jarring loss and the latest ecological crisis that has unfolded on the watch of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies have prioritized economic development over environmental protections.
The fires in the Pantanal this year are really unprecedented, said Dr Douglas C. Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre. It's a massive area.
Seeking to burnish its image, the government in July declared a 120-day prohibition on fires in the Amazon and the Pantanal. But experts said such measures have served mainly to manage the public relations crisis.
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