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El Niño and health risks from landscape fire emissions in southeast Asia

Abstract

Emissions from landscape fires affect both climate and air quality1. Here, we combine satellite-derived fire estimates and atmospheric modelling to quantify health effects from fire emissions in southeast Asia from 1997 to 2006. This region has large interannual variability in fire activity owing to coupling between El Niño-induced droughts and anthropogenic land-use change2,3. We show that during strong El Niño years, fires contribute up to 200 μg m−3 and 50 ppb in annual average fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone surface concentrations near fire sources, respectively. This corresponds to a fire contribution of 200 additional days per year that exceed the World Health Organization 50 μg m−3 24-hr PM2.5 interim target4 and an estimated 10,800 (6,800–14,300)-person ( 2%) annual increase in regional adult cardiovascular mortality. Our results indicate that reducing regional deforestation and degradation fires would improve public health along with widely established benefits from reducing carbon emissions, preserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem services.

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Figure 1: Study area population and locations of fire activity.
Figure 2: Modelled annual mean surface concentrations and corresponding additional daily exceedances in 1997 owing to fires only.
Figure 3: Population exposure above WHO interim targets.
Figure 4: Estimated additional annual cardiovascular disease mortality from exposure to fire-contributed annual PM2.5 and 24-hr O3, along with the multivariate El Niño index16.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to P. Kasibhatla for his help with the GEOS-Chem model runs. We also thank the local staff at B. K. Tabang and T. Rata for the WDCGG O3 data, M. Brauer for the annual PM2.5 data and K. Wolter at NOAA for the El Niño index. This work was supported by a National Sciences Foundation graduate research fellowship and NASA award NNX11AF96G. GFED3 is publicly available at http://www.globalfiredata.org.

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R.S.D., A.V. and M.E.M. designed the study. G.F., A.V. and M.E.M. conducted the model runs; R.S.D., A.V., J.T.R., D.T.S., Y.C. and M.E.M. contributed to the model analysis; P.L.K. and M.E.M. conducted the health estimates. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Miriam E. Marlier or Apostolos Voulgarakis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Marlier, M., DeFries, R., Voulgarakis, A. et al. El Niño and health risks from landscape fire emissions in southeast Asia. Nature Clim Change 3, 131–136 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1658

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