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 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 percent of the Brazilian wetlands, known as the Pantanal, exacting a toll scientists call ''unprecedented''.

The fires in the Pantanal, in southwest Brazil, raged across an estimated 7,861 square miles between January and August, 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's an area slightly larger than New Jersey, or Wales.

The previous record was in 2005, when approximately 4,608 square miles burned in the biome during the same period.

And to the north, the fires in the Brazilian Amazon - many of them also deliberately set commercial clearing - have been ruinous as well.

The amount of Brazilian rainforest lost to fires in 2020 has been similar to the scale of the destruction last year, when the problem drew global condemnation and added to the strains between Brazil and its trading partners, particularly in Europe.

A scientist at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, the government agency that tracks deforestation and fires, told Reuters that when data is downloaded from the satellites, the agency experts expect to find that this year's fire season in the Amazon was about as destructive as last year's, if not more.

The preliminary analysis shows more than 13,200 square miles of tree cover in the Amazon burned this year.

Alton Lara, the owner of one of the lodges that basically caters to the tourists  who come to the Pantanal to see wildlife, said he despairs to think of the toll that the fires will take on animals and plants in the area - and to his livelihood.

The World Students Society thanks authors Maria Magdalena Arrellaga, Ernest Londono, and Leticia Casado.


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