Articles | Volume 12, issue 20
Research article
22 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 22 Oct 2015

Relationships between burned area, forest cover loss, and land cover change in the Brazilian Amazon based on satellite data

T. Fanin and G. R. van der Werf

Abstract. Fires are used as a tool in the deforestation process. Yet, the relationship between fire and deforestation may vary temporally and spatially depending on the type of deforestation and climatic conditions. This study evaluates spatiotemporal dynamics of deforestation and fire represented by burned area over the 2002–2012 period in the Brazilian Legal Amazon. As a first step, we compared newly available Landsat-based maps of gross forest cover loss from the Global Forest Change (GFC) project with maps of deforestation extent from the Amazon Deforestation Monitoring Project (PRODES) produced by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). As a second step, we rescaled the Landsat-based data to the 500 m resolution of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) burned area data (MCD64A1) and stratified this using MODIS land cover data to study the role of burned area in forest cover loss and deforestation. We found that while GFC forest cover loss and PRODES deforestation generally agreed on spatial and temporal dynamics, there were several key differences between the data sets. Both showed a decrease in the extent of forest cover loss or deforestation after 2004, but the drop was larger and more continuous in PRODES than in GFC. The observed decrease in forest cover loss or deforestation rates over our study period was mainly due to lower clearing rates in the evergreen broadleaf forests in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará, and Rondônia. GFC indicated anomalously high forest cover loss in the years 2007 and 2010, which was not reported by PRODES. The burned area data indicated that this was predominantly related to increased burned area occurring outside of the tropical forest area during these dry years, mainly in Pará. This indicated that fire and forest loss dynamics in woodlands or secondary forests may be equally important as deforestation in regulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations. In addition to the decrease in forest cover loss rates, we also found that post-deforestation fire use declined; burned area within 5 years after forest cover loss decreased from 54 to 39 % during our study period.

Final-revised paper