Missing emissions from post-monsoon agricultural fires in northwestern India: regional limitations of MODIS burned area and active fire products

Liu, Tianjia; Marlier, Miriam E.; Karambelas, Alexandra N.; Jain, Meha; Singh, Sukhwinder; Singh, Manoj K.; Gautam, Ritesh; DeFries, Ruth S.

A rising source of outdoor emissions in northwestern India is crop residue burning, occurring after the monsoon (kharif) and winter (rabi) crop harvests. In particular, post-monsoon rice residue burning, which occurs annually from October to November and is linked to increasing mechanization, coincides with meteorological conditions that enhance short-term air quality degradation. Here we examine the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED), whose bottom-up emissions are based on the 500-m burned area product, MCD64A1, derived from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) observations. Using a household survey from 2016, we find that MCD64A1 tends to underestimate burned area in many surveyed villages, leading to poor representation of small, scattered fires and consequent spatial biases in model results. To more accurately allocate such small fires and resolve sub-village heterogeneity, we use an experimental hybrid MODIS-Landsat method (ModL2T) to map burned area at 30-m spatial resolution, which results in 44 ± 21% higher burned area than MCD64A1 and up to 105 ± 52% increase in dry matter emissions over GFEDv4s. In our validation and assessments, we find that ModL2T performs better relative to MCD64A1 in terms of bias and omission error, but may introduce commission error due to conflation of burning with harvest and still underestimate burned area due to Landsat's coarse temporal resolution (every 16 days). We conclude that while MODIS and Landsat provide more than two decades worth of observations, their spatio-temporal resolution is too coarse to overcome several region-specific challenges: small median landholding size (1–3 ha), quick harvest-to-sowing turnover period, prevalence of partial burning, and increasing haziness. To further constrain agricultural fire emissions in northwestern India and improve model estimates of associated public health impacts, integration of finer resolution imagery, as well as better understanding of the spatial patterns in burn rates, burn practices, and fuel loading, is requisite.

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Environmental Research Communications

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