Millions breathe hazardous air in Amazon as drought, wildfires spread through rainforest

Thick smoke has enveloped extensive areas of the Brazilian Amazon on Thursday as the region grapples with a surge in wildfires and a historic drought.

In Manaus, a city of 2 million, air quality ranked among the worst globally, leading to the suspension of college classes and the cancellation of various activities, including an international marathon.

In the first 11 days of October, Amazonas state recorded over 2,700 fires. This is already the highest number for the month since official monitoring began in 1998. Virtually all fire is human-caused, primarily for deforestation or pasture clearance.

Over the past six weeks, Manaus and other cities of Amazonas state have intermittently been blanketed by thick smoke, making it difficult to breathe. The city’s air quality index fluctuated between unhealthy and hazardous levels during the last two days, resembling the conditions in some major Asian metropolitan areas.

Normally, October marks the start of the rainy season. However, the warming of the northern Atlantic Ocean’s waters has disrupted the flow of rain clouds. Another contributing factor is El Niño, a warming of the surface waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which is expected to peak in December.

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