After a month of intensifying criticism from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro concerning data revealing a spike in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over recent months, the Brazilian President has fired the head of the government agency in charge of tracking forest loss, raising concerns over the future of an institution recognized nationally and internationally for its cutting-edge satellite-imaging and monitoring program.
On August 2, Bolsonaro fired the head of the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE), Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão. The announcement was made by Galvão himself after a meeting with the Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication, Marcos Pontes.
Image on the right: Physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, former head of the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). Image courtesy of Giro720 CC BY-SA 4.0.
“I will be fired… The way I reacted to the president[‘s accusations of data inaccuracy and data manipulation] has created an embarrassment that is untenable,” Galvão told journalists in Brasília.
In July, INPE issued an alert identifying deforestation and degradation totaling some 2,072 square kilometers (800 square miles) in June for Legal Amazonia — a federal designation that includes all or parts of nine Brazilian states — as detected by DETER, the institute’s real-time detection system. INPE noted that DETER alerts should not be used as exacting measures of deforestation rates compared year-to-year; rather the figures aim to support surveillance and enforcement.
However, a 2018-2019 month-to-month comparison does show a drastic uptick in deforestation. According to DETER, Brazil’s Amazonian deforestation in June 2019 was 88 percent greater than for the same month in 2018, while deforestation in the first half of July was 68 percent above that for the entire month of July 2018.
INPE is not scheduled to post its detailed 2019 annual deforestation analysis (conducted between August and July by its PRODES satellite monitoring system) until later this year. PRODES determines annual deforestation using NASA Landsat satellite imaging. Data gathered from August 2017 to July 2018 detected an increase in deforestation of 7,536 square kilometers (2,910 square miles) in Legal Amazonia, which represented an increase of 8.5 percent compared to 2017,