Articles | Volume 15, issue 14
Research article
17 Jul 2018
Research article |  | 17 Jul 2018

The impacts of recent drought on fire, forest loss, and regional smoke emissions in lowland Bolivia

Joshua P. Heyer, Mitchell J. Power, Robert D. Field, and Margreet J. E. van Marle

Abstract. In the southern Amazon relationships have been established among drought, human activities that cause forest loss, fire, and smoke emissions. We explore the impacts of recent drought on fire, forest loss, and atmospheric visibility in lowland Bolivia. To assess human influence on fire, we consider climate, fire, and vegetation dynamics in an area largely excluded from human activities since 1979, Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (NK) in northeastern Bolivia. We use data from five sources: the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Collection 6 active fire product (2001–2015) (MODIS C6), Global Fire WEather Database (GFWED) data (1982–2015), MODIS land cover data (2001–2010), MODIS forest loss data (2000–2012), and the regional extinction coefficient for the southwestern Amazon (i.e., Bext), which is derived from horizontal visibility data from surface stations at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) level (1973–2015). The Bext is affected by smoke and acts as a proxy for visibility and regional fire emissions. In lowland Bolivia from 2001 to 2015, interannual Drought Code (DC) variability was linked to fire activity, while from 1982 to 2015, interannual DC variability was linked to Bext. From 2001 to 2015, the Bext and MODIS C6 active fire data for lowland Bolivia captured fire seasonality, and covaried between low- and high-fire years. Consistent with previous studies, our results suggest Bext can be used as a longer-term proxy of regional fire emissions in southwestern Amazonia. Overall, our study found drought conditions were the dominant control on interannual fire variability in lowland Bolivia, and fires within NK were limited to the Cerrado and seasonally inundated wetland biomes. Our results suggest lowland Bolivian tropical forests were susceptible to human activities that may have amplified fire during drought. Human activities and drought need to be considered in future projections of southern Amazonian fire, in regard to carbon emissions and global climate.

Short summary
A variety of data were explored to better understand relationships among climate, fire, smoke emissions, and human land use in lowland Bolivia. Paleosedimentary work and modern fire records have linked drought to fire in the southern Amazon. From 2000 to 2015, our results indicate drought was the dominant control on wildfire in lowland Bolivia and in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park. Note that fire was most common in the Cerrado and seasonally inundated wetland biomes.
Final-revised paper