Climate change, human land use and future fires in the Amazon

Authors

  • MARK A. COCHRANE,

    1. Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University, 1021 Medary Avenue, Wecota Hall, Box 506B, Brookings, SD 57007, USA
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  • CHRISTOPHER P. BARBER

    1. Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University, 1021 Medary Avenue, Wecota Hall, Box 506B, Brookings, SD 57007, USA
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Mark A. Cochrane, tel. +1 605 688 5353, fax +1 605 688 5227, e-mail: Mark.Cochrane@sdstate.edu

Abstract

There is increasing consensus that the global climate will continue to warm over the next century. The biodiversity-rich Amazon forest is a region of growing concern because many global climate model (GCM) scenarios of climate change forecast reduced precipitation and, in some cases, coupled vegetation models predict dieback of the forest. To date, fires have generally been spatially co-located with road networks and associated human land use because almost all fires in this region are anthropogenic in origin. Climate change, if severe enough, could alter this situation, potentially changing the fire regime to one of increased fire frequency and severity for vast portions of the Amazon forest. High moisture contents and dense canopies have historically made Amazonian forests extremely resistant to fire spread. Climate will affect the fire situation in the Amazon directly, through changes in temperature and precipitation, and indirectly, through climate-forced changes in vegetation composition and structure. The frequency of drought will be a prime determinant of both how often forest fires occur and how extensive they become. Fire risk management needs to take into account landscape configuration, land cover types and forest disturbance history as well as climate and weather. Maintaining large blocks of unsettled forest is critical for managing landscape level fire in the Amazon. The Amazon has resisted previous climate changes and should adapt to future climates as well if landscapes can be managed to maintain natural fire regimes in the majority of forest remnants.

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