Increasing potential of biomass burning over Sumatra, Indonesia induced by anthropogenic tropical warming

R. Kartika Lestari, Masahiro Watanabe, Yukiko Imada, Hideo Shiogama, Robert D. Field, Toshihiko Takemura, Masahide Kimoto

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    21 Citations (Scopus)


    Uncontrolled biomass burning in Indonesia during drought periods damages the landscape, degrades regional air quality, and acts as a disproportionately large source of greenhouse gas emissions. The expansion of forest fires is mostly observed in October in Sumatra favored by persistent droughts during the dry season from June to November. The contribution of anthropogenic warming to the probability of severe droughts is not yet clear. Here, we show evidence that past events in Sumatra were exacerbated by anthropogenic warming and that they will become more frequent under a future emissions scenario. By conducting two sets of atmospheric general circulation model ensemble experiments driven by observed sea surface temperature for 1960-2011, one with and one without an anthropogenic warming component, we found that a recent weakening of the Walker circulation associated with tropical ocean warming increased the probability of severe droughts in Sumatra, despite increasing tropical-mean precipitation. A future increase in the frequency of droughts is then suggested from our analyses of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 model ensembles. Increasing precipitation to the north of the equator accompanies drier conditions over Indonesia, amplified by enhanced ocean surface warming in the central equatorial Pacific. The resultant precipitation decrease leads to a ∼25% increase in severe drought events from 1951-2000 to 2001-2050. Our results therefore indicate the global warming impact to a potential of wide-spreading forest fires over Indonesia, which requires mitigation policy for disaster prevention.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number104010
    JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2014

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
    • Environmental Science(all)
    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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