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Air quality and human health improvements from reductions in deforestation-related fire in Brazil

Abstract

Roughly 15% of the Brazilian Amazon was deforested between 1976 and 20101. Fire is the dominant method through which forests and vegetation are cleared. Fires emit large quantities of particulate matter into the atmosphere2, which degrades air quality and affects human health3,4. Since 2004, Brazil has achieved substantial reductions in deforestation rates1,5,6 and associated deforestation fires7. Here we assess the impact of this reduction on air quality and human health during non-drought years between 2001 and 2012. We analyse aerosol optical depth measurements obtained with satellite and ground-based sensors over southwest Brazil and Bolivia for the dry season, from August to October. We find that observed dry season aerosol optical depths are more than a factor of two lower in years with low deforestation rates in Brazil. We used a global aerosol model to show that reductions in fires associated with deforestation have caused mean surface particulate matter concentrations to decline by 30% during the dry season in the region. Using particulate matter concentration response functions from the epidemiological literature, we estimate that this reduction in particulate matter may be preventing roughly 400 to 1,700 premature adult deaths annually across South America.

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Figure 1: Relationships between deforestation rates, fire emissions and AOD.
Figure 2: Fire emissions and impacts on regional aerosol.
Figure 3: Relationship of simulated PM2.5 and premature mortality against Brazil’s deforestation rates.

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Acknowledgements

This research was financially supported by FAPESP (2013/05014-0, 2012/14437-9), UBoC and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through the South American Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA) project (NE/J009822/1, NE/J010073/1). We acknowledge support from the LBA central office at the Brazilian National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA), principal investigators and their staff for maintaining the AERONET sites and Google Earth Engine and team.

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C.L.R. performed the model simulations. P.A. provided data. C.L.R., E.W.B., D.A.R. and D.V.S. analysed the data. All authors contributed to scientific discussions and helped write the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. V. Spracklen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Reddington, C., Butt, E., Ridley, D. et al. Air quality and human health improvements from reductions in deforestation-related fire in Brazil. Nature Geosci 8, 768–771 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2535

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