Recent global and regional trends in burned area and their compensating environmental controls

Matthias Forkel, Wouter Dorigo, Gitta Lasslop, Emilio Chuvieco, Stijn Hantson, Angelika Heil, Irene Teubner, Kirsten Thonicke, Sandy P. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The apparent decline in the global incidence of fire between 1996 and 2015, as measured by satelliteobservations of burned area, has been related to socioeconomic and land use changes. However, recent decades have also seen changes in climate and vegetation that influence fire and fire-enabled vegetation models do not reproduce the apparent decline. Given that the satellite-derived burned area datasets are still relatively short (<20 years), this raises questions both about the robustness of the apparent decline and what causes it.Weuse two global satellite-derived burned area datasets and a data-driven fire model to (1) assess the spatio-temporal robustness of the burned area trends and (2) to relate the trends to underlying changes in temperature, precipitation, human population density and vegetation conditions. Although the satellite datasets and simulation all show a decline in global burned area over ~20 years, the trend is not significant and is strongly affected by the start and end year chosen for trend analysis and the year-to-year variability in burned area. The global and regional trends shown by the two satellite datasets are poorly correlated for the common overlapping period (2001-2015) and the fire model simulates changes in global and regional burned area that lie within the uncertainties of the satellite datasets. The model simulations show that recent increases in temperature would lead to increased burned area but this effect is compensated by increasing wetness or increases in population, both of which lead to declining burned area. Increases in vegetation cover and density associated with recent greening trends lead to increased burned area in fuel-limited regions. Our analyses show that global and regional burned area trends result from the interaction of compensating trends in controls of wildfire at regional scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number051005
JournalEnvironmental Research Communications
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geology
  • Food Science
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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