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Twenty-first century droughts have not increasingly exacerbated fire season severity in the Brazilian Amazon

Libonati R., Pereira J.M.C., Da Camara C.C., Peres L.F., Oom D., Rodrigues J.A., Santos F.L.M., Trigo R.M., Gouveia C.M., Machado-Silva F., Enrich-Prast A., Silva J.M.N.
Scientific Reports 11, 4400 (2021). DOI:10.1038/s41598-021-82158-8

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Abstract

Biomass burning in the Brazilian Amazon is modulated by climate factors, such as droughts, and by human factors, such as deforestation, and land management activities. The increase in forest fires during drought years has led to the hypothesis that fire activity decoupled from deforestation during the twenty-first century. However, assessment of the hypothesis relied on an incorrect active fire dataset, which led to an underestimation of the decreasing trend in fire activity and to an inflated rank for year 2015 in terms of active fire counts. The recent correction of that database warrants a reassessment of the relationships between deforestation and fire. Contrasting with earlier findings, we show that the exacerbating effect of drought on fire season severity did not increase from 2003 to 2015 and that the record-breaking dry conditions of 2015 had the least impact on fire season of all twenty-first century severe droughts. Overall, our results for the same period used in the study that originated the fire-deforestation decoupling hypothesis (20032015) show that decoupling was clearly weaker than initially proposed. Extension of the study period up to 2019, and novel analysis of trends in fire types and fire intensity strengthened this conclusion. Therefore, the role of deforestation as a driver of fire activity in the region should not be underestimated and must be taken into account when implementing measures to protect the Amazon forest.