Globally, the rise of agriculture is squashing some fires


Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. The Blue Marble Next Generation data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC). The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC)

A global assessment reveals that burned areas have declined by approximately 24% over the past 18 years, with the expansion of agricultural playing a major part. Fires play a substantial role in shaping ecosystems and have widespread impacts on climate, affecting vegetation and soil carbon, surface albedo, and atmospheric concentrations of aerosols and greenhouse gases. Therefore, understanding fire trends is critical for informing climate change models. Here, Niels Andela and colleagues analyzed satellite data between 1998 and 2015 to identify burned areas on a global scale. They also conducted several analyses to assess the drivers and implications of long-term trends of burned areas. They found overall declines in burned areas on every continent except Eurasia, with particularly large decreases occurring in the tropical savannas of South America and Africa, as well as in grasslands across the Asian steppe. Rainfall patterns explained much of the short-term variability in burned area, but little of the long-term decline, the authors say. They ultimately found that long-term declines were more associated with transitions from natural to managed landscapes. In highly capitalized regions (with high gross domestic product), burned area was considerably lower, which may reflect an effectiveness of fire management efforts – employed to protect high value crops, livestock, homes, infrastructure, and air quality. The link between changes in land use and burned area declines observed here suggests that such declines may continue, or even accelerate, in coming decades, the authors conclude.


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