USF professor calls Amazon wildfires a 'catastrophe of huge proportions'

Images released this week from NASA show plums of smoke connected to the massive wildfires happening in the Amazon rainforest.

"It's a catastrophe of huge proportions," said Dr. Deby Cassill, an associate professor in USF's Department of Biological Sciences.

Since January, there have been more than 39,000 fires detected within the rainforest according to the National Institute For Space Research located in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"The problem with a fire of this magnitude is that it sends particles up into the air and will actually eventually generate air pollution," Cassill said.

As Cassill explains, air pollution is just one of the impacts. Oxygen levels are also expected to decrease, considering the Amazon rainforest is one of the world's largest oxygen producers.

Cassill says it could be months or even years before we know the full impact from the fires. 

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"This is underrepresented in my lifetime to have a wildfire of this magnitude in just a beautiful pristine part of our earth," Cassill said.

The Amazon is made up of roughly 390 billion trees along with more than 16,000 species. Cassill is most concerned about containing the fire which is something she believes is extremely difficult.

"It's catastrophic and I don't know if it can be contained or when it will be contained. It's an unknown variable at this point," Cassill said.