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

Marlier, Miriam E.; DeFries, Ruth S.; Voulgarakis, Apostolos; Kinney, Patrick L.; Randerson, James T.; Shindell, Drew T.; Chen, Yang; Faluvegi, Gregory S.

Emissions from landscape fires affect both climate and air quality. 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 change. 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 target 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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Nature Climate Change

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