The impacts of recent drought on fire, forest loss, and regional smoke emissions in lowland Bolivia

Joshua P. Heyer*, Mitchell J. Power, Robert D. Field, Margreet J.E. van Marle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In the southern Amazon relationships have been established among drought, human activities that cause forest loss, fire, and smoke emissions. We explore the impacts of recent drought on fire, forest loss, and atmospheric visibility in lowland Bolivia. To assess human influence on fire, we consider climate, fire, and vegetation dynamics in an area largely excluded from human activities since 1979, Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (NK) in northeastern Bolivia. We use data from five sources: The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Collection 6 active fire product (2001-2015) (MODIS C6), Global Fire WEather Database (GFWED) data (1982-2015), MODIS land cover data (2001-2010), MODIS forest loss data (2000-2012), and the regional extinction coefficient for the southwestern Amazon (i.e., Bext), which is derived from horizontal visibility data from surface stations at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) level (1973-2015). The Bext is affected by smoke and acts as a proxy for visibility and regional fire emissions. In lowland Bolivia from 2001 to 2015, interannual Drought Code (DC) variability was linked to fire activity, while from 1982 to 2015, interannual DC variability was linked to Bext. From 2001 to 2015, the Bext and MODIS C6 active fire data for lowland Bolivia captured fire seasonality, and covaried between low- and high-fire years. Consistent with previous studies, our results suggest Bext can be used as a longer-term proxy of regional fire emissions in southwestern Amazonia. Overall, our study found drought conditions were the dominant control on interannual fire variability in lowland Bolivia, and fires within NK were limited to the Cerrado and seasonally inundated wetland biomes. Our results suggest lowland Bolivian tropical forests were susceptible to human activities that may have amplified fire during drought. Human activities and drought need to be considered in future projections of southern Amazonian fire, in regard to carbon emissions and global climate..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4317-4331
Number of pages15
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2018


Acknowledgements. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant 1256065. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Robert D. Field was supported by the NASA Precipitation Measurement Missions Science Team and the NASA Modeling, Analysis and Prediction Program.

FundersFunder number
NASA Precipitation Measurement Missions Science Team
National Science Foundation
Directorate for Education and Human Resources1256065
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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