Jiang, Y; Zhou, LM; Raghavendra, A (2020). Observed changes in fire patterns and possible drivers over Central Africa. ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 15(9), 0940b8.

Fire is an integral part of Earth's system that links regional and global biogeochemical cycles, human activities, and ecosystems. Global estimates for biomass burning indicate that Africa is responsible for similar to 70% of global burned area and similar to 50% of fire-related carbon emissions. Previous studies have documented an overall decline in burned area in the African continent, but changes in fire patterns, such as the frequency and size of different fire categories, have not been assessed. In this study, long-term fire trends were investigated using the latest burned area data from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Global Fire Emission Database (GFED4s) over Central Africa (10 degrees E-40 degrees E, 15 degrees N-15 degrees S). A 3D (latitude, longitude, time) connected-component labeling algorithm was applied to identify individual fires and their sizes. The results show a decline in burned area by 2.7-3.2 Mha yr(-1)(similar to 1.3% yr(-1)) for the period 2003-2017, particularly in northern Central Africa. This decline was attributed to significant decreases in both fire frequency and size, particularly for large fires (>100 ha) which contribute to similar to 90% of the total burned area. Burned area declined in tropical savannas and grasslands but increased at the edges of the Congolese rainforest. A random forest regression model was applied to quantify the influences of climatic conditions, fuel availability, and agricultural activity on burned area changes. Overall, suppressed fuel, increased dry season length, and decreased rainfall contributed to significant declines in burned area in savannas and grasslands. At the edges of the southern Congolese rainforest, suppressed rainfall and warmer temperature were responsible for the increased burned area.