A number of different types of fires occur in the region, including fires for deforestation, agricultural management, and wildfires in savannas and tropical forests. In addition to successfully predicting the overall fire severity, the model also captured the variability in forest and savanna fires from one year to the next when considered separately.
The researchers are optimistic that the findings may help serve as the foundation of an early warning system for fires that would help South American authorities prepare for severe fire seasons. Morton noted an early warning system could play a critical role in helping authorities blunt the negative impacts of heavy fires years such as those the region has experienced in 2005, 2007, and 2010.
Fire activity is a growing concern in the Amazon, a humid region that would experience very few fires in the absence of human activity. "Deforestation rates in the Amazon have declined significantly in recent years due to government regulations, but fire activity has been holding steady and even going up in some areas due to increases in escaped agricultural fires," said Ruth DeFries, a scientist at Columbia University, New York, and a co-author on the paper.
South American fires have a particularly important impact on climate. Fires from deforestation contribute about half of the carbon emissions from deforestation in South America and a recent analysis showed that for the continent creates about 15 percent of the worldwide carbon emissions from fires. Climate models predict that the region will receive less rainfall as climate change progresses, which would increase the risk of forest fires and lead to greater carbon emissions.
|Contact: Patrick Lynch|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center