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Forest Understory Fire in the Brazilian Amazon in ENSO and Non-ENSO Years: Area Burned and Committed Carbon Emissions"Understory fires" that burn the floor of standing forests are one of the most important types of forest impoverishment in the Amazon, especially during the severe droughts of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes. However, we are aware of no estimates of the areal extent of these fires for the Brazilian Amazon and, hence, of their contribution to Amazon carbon fluxes to the atmosphere. We calculated the area of forest understory fires for the Brazilian Amazon region during an El Nino (1998) and a non El Nino (1995) year based on forest fire scars mapped with satellite images for three locations in eastern and southern Amazon, where deforestation is concentrated. The three study sites represented a gradient of both forest types and dry season severity. The burning scar maps were used to determine how the percentage of forest that burned varied with distance from agricultural clearings. These spatial functions were then applied to similar forest/climate combinations outside of the study sites to derive an initial estimate for the Brazilian Amazon. Ninety-one percent of the forest area that burned in the study sites was within the first kilometer of a clearing for the non ENSO year and within the first four kilometers for the ENSO year. The area of forest burned by understory forest fire during the severe drought (ENSO) year (3.9 millions of hectares) was 13 times greater than the area burned during the average rainfall year (0.2 million hectares), and twice the area of annual deforestation rate. Dense forest was, proportionally, the forest area most affected by understory fires during the El Nino year, while understory fires were concentrated in transitional forests during the year of average rainfall. Our estimate of aboveground tree biomass killed by fire ranged from 0.06 Pg to 0.38 Pg during the ENSO and from 0,004 Pg to 0,024 Pg during the non ENSO.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Alencar, A.
Nepstad, D.
Ver-Diaz, M. Del. C.
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Meteorology and Climatology
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.