Human and climate drivers of global biomass burning variability

Emilio Chuvieco, M. Lucrecia Pettinari, Nikos Koutsias, Matthias Forkel, Stijn Hantson, Marco Turco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Biomass burning is one of the most critical factors impacting vegetation and atmospheric trends, with important societal implications, particularly when extreme weather conditions occur. Trends and factors of burned area (BA) have been analysed at regional and global scales, but little effort has been dedicated to study the interannual variability. This paper aimed to better understand factors explaining this variation, under the assumption that the more human control of fires the more frequently they occur, as burnings will be less dependent of weather cycles. Interannual variability of BA was estimated from the coefficient of variation of the annual BA (BA_CV) estimated from satellite data at 250 m, covering the period from 2001 to 2018. These data and the explanatory variables were resampled at 0.25-degree resolution for global analysis. Relations between this variable and explanatory factors, including human and climate drivers, were estimated using Random Forest (RF) and generalized additive models (GAM). BA_CV was negatively related to BA_Mean, implying that areas with higher average BA have lower variability as well. Interannual BA variability decreased when maximum temperature (TMAX) and actual and potential evapotranspiration (AET, PET) increased, cropland and livestock density increased and the human development index (HDI) values decreased. GAM models indicated interesting links with AET, PET and precipitation, with negative relation with BA_CV for the lower ranges and positive for the higher ones, the former indicating fuel limitations of fire activity, and the latter climate constrains. For the global RF model, TMAX, AET and HDI were the main drivers of interannual variability. As originally hypothesised, BA_CV was more dependent on human factors (HDI) in those areas with medium to large BA occurrence, particularly in tropical Africa and Central Asia, while climatic factors were more important in boreal regions, but also in the tropical regions of Australia and South America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146361
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jul 20 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Human and climate drivers of global biomass burning variability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this