Hundreds of netizens took to social media in a desire to get to the bottom of the phenomenon. Some were quick to dish out the apocalypse card, while others compared the eerie appearance of São Paulo to the setting of Mordor, a black, volcanic realm at the center of the fictional world created by writer J.R.R. Tolkien.
However, as it turns out, the Brazilian financial center was not exactly on the verge of hosting Sauron. According to experts, the dark skies were the result of three factors: smoke from forest fires in Bolivia, Paraguay and remote parts of Brazil; a cold front; and the fact that the city sits at an elevation of 2,500 feet.
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— Shannon Sims (@shannongsims) August 20, 2019
“The smoke didn’t come from fires in the state of São Paulo, but from very dense and wide fires that have been happening for several days in [the state of] Rondonia and Bolivia,” Josélia Pegorim, a meteorologist with Climatempo, said in an interview with Brazilian media outlet Globo.
“The cold front changed direction, and its winds transported the smoke to São Paulo.”
According to local media outlets, the blackout last for about an hour.
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Data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reveals that the number of wildfires in the South American country’s Amazon has seen an increase of 84% in 2019 compared to figures calculated the year prior. The fires responsible for the smoke in São Paulo have been burning for a period of more than 10 days.
INPE reports that hundreds of fires are the result of farmers lighting blazes in an effort to clear land for soybean crops and cattle farming.
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Earlier this year, researchers in a study published in the journal Nature Communication noted that forest fires are occurring more frequently and growing in intensity as a result of continued deforestation and human activity.
“Wildfires in the Amazon are not natural events, but are instead caused by a combination of droughts and human activities,” the researchers wrote. “Both anthropogenic climate change and regional deforestation are linked to increases in the intensity and frequency of droughts over Amazonia.”
Brazilian President Jaír Bolsonaro suggested on Wednesday that the fires were possibly ignited by nonprofits whose budgets were cut. He claimed that the acts were committed “to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil.”
He did not provide any information to back up the allegations, AP reported.
Similar dark skies appeared over Canada’s British Columbia in 2018 after fires churned through nearly 1.1 million acres in the province.