We present a methodology for estimating the seasonal and interannual variation of biomass burning, designed for use in global chemical transport models. The average seasonal variation is estimated from 4 years of fire-count data from the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) and 1-2 years of similar data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) World Fire Atlases. We use the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) Aerosol Index (AI) data product as a surrogate to estimate interannual variability in biomass burning for six regions: Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia, Brazil, Central America and Mexico, Canada and Alaska, and Asiatic Russia. The AI data set is available from 1979 to the present with an interruption in satellite observations from mid-1993 to mid-1996; this data gap is filled where possible with estimates of area burned from the literature for different regions. Between August 1996 and July 2000 the ATSR fire-counts are used to provide specific locations of emissions and a record of interannual variability throughout the world. We use our methodology to estimate mean seasonal and interannual variations for emissions of carbon monoxide from biomass burning, and find that no trend is apparent in these emissions over the last two decades, but that there is significant interannual variability.