Smoke Blankets Venezuela

Smoke Blankets Venezuela

Venezuela’s dry season typically extends from December to March with heavy rains returning in April and May. The country’s fire season generally follows the same pattern, with the number of fires observed by satellites tending to rise in January, peak in March, and drop in May.

And so it went for the 2024 burning season, with one key difference. In the preceding months, unusually warm and dry weather, potentially a consequence of global warming and shifting circulation and rainfall patterns associated with the ongoing El Niño, parched the country’s landscapes and primed them to burn.

NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensor detected a record-breaking number of fires in Venezuela in the early part of the year, according to data posted by Queimadas, a program of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Fire counts in January 2024 and February 2024 were above 9,000—higher than any other January or February since the beginning of the MODIS record in the early 2000s. In March 2024, the sensor detected more than 11,000 fires; the only other March that the sensor detected more was in 2003. VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), a similar but newer sensor that can detect smaller and lower-temperature fires, also observed unusually high numbers of fires in Venezuela during the first three months of 2024, according to data posted by Global Forest Watch.

This image, acquired by MODIS on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows several large, smoky fires burning south of the Orinoco River on March 26, 2024. Brown areas in the northern part of the image are part of the Llanos, a mostly treeless savanna covered with seasonally flooded grasslands and cattle pastures. The green areas in the southern part of the image are rainforests that span the fringes of the Guiana Highlands, a plateau that covers the southern half of Venezuela.

Data from the SERVIR Amazon Fire Dashboard indicate that several large understory forest fires have burned in the region in March. Parts of Canaima National Park are among the areas that have burned, according to reporting from El Estímulo. Much of the park is covered by flat-topped mountains called tepuis that are known for hosting a unique array of endemic plant and animal species.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Michala Garrison, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.