Amazon fires: Effort to quell rainforest blaze hampered by hostile ground and defiant BolsonaroTerrence McCoy, Marina Lopes•EPA Millions of dollars in aid are being pledged. Hundreds of soldiers are heading into the jungle. The Amazon is burning – and the world has taken notice.Now comes the hard part.The fight to quell the blazes will be waged not only in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth – an expanse so vast, dense and remote that many of the fires can be reached only by foot – but also in a country where the president is openly antagonising the donors who are trying to help.The twin challenges – one political, the other environmental – were feeding each other Monday, further muddying a response that activists and analysts stress must be broad and swift to temper what could be significant damage to the world’s most important forest.The fires are not traditional in any sense. Most have been set intentionally, by farmers and loggers clearing land. The ground is not arid but sodden.And it’s not one big blaze but hundreds, many separated by wide distances. It will require a well-organised effort, analysts say, to stamp out the fires – and make sure they stay out.But a personal dispute between the presidents of Brazil and France threatened to overshadow the danger facing the Amazon, which is regarded as essential to curbing global warming.Over the weekend, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to mock the appearance of French President Emmanuel Macron‘s wife. And when Group of Seven member states pledged $22.2 million (£16 million) on Monday to fight the fires – an effort led by Macron – Bolsonaro took offence.Read moreJair Bolsonaro is accused of ignoring environmental destruction„We cannot accept that a President, Macron, issues inappropriate and gratuitous attacks against the Amazon,” he tweeted. „Nor that he disguises his intentions behind an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if it were a colony or no man’s land.”Speaking to reporters, Mr Bolsonaro questioned the donors’ intentions: „Would someone help someone else . . . without expecting anything in return?”His government ultimately decided it will reject the G7 offer, Brazilian media reported late on Monday evening.Macron called Mr Bolsonaro’s behaviour shameful.„For him to have made incredibly disrespectful comments about my spouse – what can I say to you?” Mr Macron said. „It is sad. It is sad. But it is sad first of all for him and the Brazilian people.”Jair Bolsonaro has rejected worldwide offers of aid to abate the fires as ‘colonialism’ (AFP/Getty Images)Mr Bolsonaro campaigned last year on promises to open up the Amazon to development. Since his inauguration in January, deforestation – much of it illegal – has surged.Scientists warn that the forest is fast approaching a tipping point – between 20 percent and 25 percent deforestation – when the damage could be irreversible, and large swaths could transform into savanna.Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the degradation is the most elemental: fire. The number of blazes in the Amazon states has risen by more than 75 percent this year, and the rate at which they’re scorching the earth has doubled.After farmers and loggers hack down the forest, the easiest way to dispose of the foliage is to let it dry out in the sun for months – then set it ablaze. Smoke from these fires blanketed distant cities last week, grounding flights and sending patients to hospitals with smoke inhalation.Countries in Latin America, the Middle East and beyond have offered money and firefighters. But leaders in Brazil, a former Portuguese colony long wary of foreigners’ interest in the Amazon, have expressed concern over what Bolsonaro has described as a „colonialist mentality.”Scientists, meanwhile, have been more preoccupied with the practical concerns of the task before firefighters.The Bolsonaro administration has set aside $7 million (£5.7m) to combat the fires and readied 44,000 troops to deploy. Four hundred have been sent to the northern state of Rondonia, where 4,600 fires have burned this month, and the air force has launched planes to shower the flames.The job ahead won’t be easy.”We’re talking about battling what will be hundreds of fires burning simultaneously, beyond any road network, distributed across thousands of miles,” said Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center.Swathes of the Amazon rainforest are turning to ashes as fires ravage the greenery (AFP/Getty Images)”It’s quite a challenge to mobilise resources for one of these fires, but to simultaneously track down and put out a number of these sorts of fires . . . demands essentially a full press.”You really do need thousands of people,” he said.The first challenge is just reaching the fires, many of which occur hundreds of miles from the forest’s edge.”That’s why there is a huge focus on prevention,” said Paulo Brando, a professor of physical sciences at the University of California at Irvine who has spent years working on the issue. „Once these fires spread in gigantic areas, they are very hard to contain.”The central paradox of the fires, however, is that they can wreak significant damage without being all that strong. When compared with the towering infernos that are visited upon California every year, the Amazon fires are minuscule.http://players.brightcove.net/624246174001/default_default/index.html?videoId=6077658286001Emmanuel Macron hits back at Jair Bolsonaro for the ‘ insulting remarks regarding my wife’Almost all that have burned in 2019 have been what’s considered low-intensity – barely knee-high – a Level 1 on a scale of 3.But because of the fragility of the environment, Morton said, the fires are devastating. The Amazon rainforest, soaked in hundreds of inches of rainfall annually and home to some of the wettest land on Earth, simply isn’t able to withstand them.”The fires are unremarkable from a standpoint of the intensity of fire, but equally remarkable to the damage it can do to the Amazon,” Morton said. „The fire is enough to kill most of the trees because they’re not adapted to fire.”On Monday, some questioned whether the resources so far marshalled were enough for the challenge.The $22.2 million (£16m) donated by the G7 countries would go fast, said Rick Swan, an official with the International Association of Fire Fighters.”For a reference point, the Tubbs Fire in 2017 [in northern California], the firefighting costs alone were $100 million,” he said.And the Amazon fires this year might only be getting started.Ane Alencar, the director of science at Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said more were almost certainly on the way.Those burning now were lit using trees cut in May and June. An area amounting to half the size of Rhode Island was cut down in July alone, and those trees have yet to spark.”We are still waiting,” she said. „The peak of the burning season in the Amazon is around September.”The Washington Post
High above Greenland glaciers, NASA looks into melting ocean ice
– ‘Ice cube under a hair dryer’ –
Willis is investigating how warmer layers of water off the coast come into contact with glaciers and how this effects how quickly they melt.
„A lot of people think of the ice here as melting from the air warming, sort of like an ice cube under a hair dryer, but in fact the oceans are also eating away at the ice’s edges,” Willis said.
OMG surveys Greenlandic glaciers in the winter, comparing it with the data they collect about the oceans in the summer over a five-year period, which Willis hopes will allow researchers to better predict sea-level rise.
The island has three quarters bordering the Arctic ocean and is 85 percent covered in ice — if this ice sheet were to disappear completely, it would raise the ocean level by seven metres (23 feet).
The Arctic region has warmed twice as fast as the global average, and Greenland, a resource-rich Danish possession, has become a focal point for climate research — as well an object of desire for US President Donald Trump, who scrapped a trip to Denmark over its dismissal of his attempts to buy the autonomous territory.
– Greenland ‘a challenge’ –
NASA — best know for the moon landings and space travel — started to study the earth’s climate in greater depth from the 1970s when its inter-planetary exploration budget was reduced, using its satellites to look at the earth.
Today it has more than a dozen satellites in orbit monitoring earth’s seas, ice, land and atmosphere, along with missions like OMG, which Willis hopes will provide data to give better predictions of sea-level rise around the globe.
At the rear of the refitted DC3, built in 1942 for the Canadian air force during World War II, project manager Ian McCubbin took his turn by a chute holding the plastic probe, waiting for the order to drop it.
Sucked out into the cold air below, the four-foot cylinder parachuted into the water and after a nervous wait, started transmitting data to the team on the plane.
With 20 years’ experience flying with the JPL, McCubbin also organises the mission’s logistics from the remote airfields it flies out of during the summer.
„Dealing with Greenland’s remoteness is a unique challenge,” McCubbin said on a break between dropping probes, a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.
Limited communications and transport links and the island’s unpredictable weather all make keeping the mission in the air more complicated, but McCubbin said he was happy to put up with the difficulties.
„The relevance of this project makes it exciting to work on, given the importance to our society, our children, our children’s children,” he said.
– ‘Tough decisions ahead’ –
Ian Fenty, an investigator with OMG, sat in front of a laptop and a bank of electronics receiving the signals from the probes.
After each probe hit the water, data started to upload almost immediately onto the small screen on the laptop on the tray table in front of Fenty.
„The data we’re collecting are super valuable because they’re allowing us for the very first time to quantitatively relate ocean temperature changes with the melting of the ice sheet,” he said.
After two hours in the air along the coast of eastern Greenland, the plane turned and headed back to base at the remote village of Kulusuk, flying low over icebergs and pods of whales in the sea below.
After the flight, Willis, wearing Ray Bans, a leather jacket with the collar turned up and a guitar, gave a performance of his Elvis-inspired „Climate Rock” to diners and visiting journalists in the village’s hotel, explaining the difference between the weather and climate.
For Willis, the song, like his work with OMG, are all part of trying to get his message about climate change and sea-level rise across.
„I feel like as a climate scientist I have a responsibility to explain what we’re finding to the world,” he said.
„We have some tough decisions ahead of us if we want to avoid the worst parts of climate change.”
The lifesize robot is due to stay on the International Space Station until September 7, learning to assist astronauts there
Moscow (AFP) – An unmanned spacecraft carrying Russia’s first humanoid robot to be sent into orbit successfully docked at the International Space Station on Tuesday, following a failed attempt over the weekend, Moscow’s space agency said.
The lifesize robot called Fedor copies human movements and can help astronauts carry out tasks remotely.
„Contact confirmed, capture confirmed,” a NASA commentator announced, while a statement on the website of Russian space agency Roscosmos also said the Soyuz MS-14 craft had managed to dock.
On NASA TV, which broadcast the event, the commentator praised the vessel’s „flawless approach to the ISS”.
„Second time was a charm… the crew is up to seven,” he said, referring to the six humans already aboard the space station.
The craft blasted off Thursday from a Russian spaceport in southern Kazakhstan and Fedor is due to stay on the ISS until September 7, learning to assist astronauts there.
„Let’s go. Let’s go,” the robot was heard saying during the launch, repeating the phrase used by the first man in space Yuri Gagarin.
Soyuz ships are normally manned on such trips, but this time no humans were travelling in order to test a new emergency rescue system.
The MS-14 was carrying 670 kilogrammes (100 stone) of dry cargo including „scientific and medical equipment, components for the life-support system, as well as containers with food, medicines and personal hygiene products for crew members”, Roscosmos said.
– Failed attempt –
An aborted attempt to dock on Saturday had increased uncertainty over the future of Russia’s space programme, which has suffered a number of recent setbacks.
Last October, a Soyuz rocket carrying an American and a Russian had to make an emergency landing shortly after lift-off — the first failure in the history of manned Russian flights.
On Saturday, NASA had said the Soyuz craft was „unable to lock onto its target at the station”.
Russian flight controllers had told the ISS crew it appeared the problem that prevented automated docking was in the station and not the Soyuz spacecraft, NASA added.
Fedor — short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research — can be operated manually by ISS astronauts wearing robotic exoskeleton suits and it mirrors their movements.
Robots like Fedor will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, according to the Russian space agency.
Fedor is not the first robot to go into space. In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid developed with General Motors that had a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.
It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.
In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations — albeit only in Japanese.
The International Space Station has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.