Megafires in Chile 2017: Monitoring multiscale environmental impacts of burned ecosystems

Title  Megafires in Chile 2017:Monitoringmultiscale environmental impacts of burned ecosystems
Author  De la Barrera, F1; Barraza, F.; Favier, Ph.; Ruiz, V.; Quense, J.
Line(s) Sociospatial Dynamics
Year of Publication 2018
Journal Title Science of the Total Environment
Keywords Impact of wildfires, air pollution, socio-natural hazards, risk assessment, ecosystem services, ecosystems
Abstract During the summer of 2017, several megafires in South-Central Chile burned down forest plantations, native forests, shrublands and human settlements. National authorities identified the relevant effects of the wildfires on infrastructure and ecosystems. However, other indirect effects such as the risk of flooding or, increased air pollution were not assessed. The present study assesses: i) the geographic characterization of wildfires, ii) amount of damage to ecosystems and the severity of wildfires, iii) the effects of megafires on air quality in nearby and distant urban areas, and iv) identification of cities potentially exposed to landslides and flooding. We ran remote sensing analyses based on the Normalized Burn Ratio taken from Landsat imagery, “active fires” from MODIS, and ASTER GDEM. The particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) levels measured on 34 Chilean’s municipalities were correlated with the burning area/distance ratio by Spearman correlation. Socionatural hazards were evaluated using multi-criteria analyses combining proximity to burned areas, severity, potential flow of water and sediments as indicated by the Digital Elevation Model, drainage networks and the location of human settlements. 91 burned areas were identified, covering 529,794 ha. The most affected ecosystems were forest plantations and native shrublands. We found significant correlations between burned area/distance ratios and PM2.5 and PM10 levels, leading to increased levels over the Chilean air quality standard in the most populated cities. 37 human settlements were at increased risk of landslides and flooding hazards after fires and eleven could now be characterized as dangerously exposed. The 2017 wildfires in Chile have had an impact at both a small and large scale, with far-reaching air pollutants dispersing and affecting >74% of the Chilean population. The impact of the wildfires was also extended over time, creating future potential for landslides and flooding, with the risk increasing in rainy seasons.
Doi https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.119
Corresponding Author Francisco de la Barrera, fdelabarrera@udec.cl