Modeling vegetation fires and fire emissions

Spessa, Allan; van der Werf, Guido; Thonicke, Kirsten; Gomez Dans, Jose; Lehsten, Veiko; Fisher, Rose and Forrest, Matthew (2013). Modeling vegetation fires and fire emissions. In: Goldammer, Johann Georg ed. Vegetation Fires and Global Change – Challenges for Concerted International Action. A White Paper directed to the United Nations and International Organizations. Kessel, pp. 181–207.



Fire is the most important ecological and forest disturbance agent worldwide, is a major way by which carbon is transferred from the land to the atmosphere, and is globally a significant source of greenhouse gases and aerosols. Wildfires across all major biome types globally consume about 5% of net annual terrestrial primary production per annum, and release about 2-4 Pg C per annum, of which approximately 0.6 Pg C comes from tropical deforestation and below-ground peat fires. The global figure is equivalent to about 20-30% of global emissions from fossil fuels. Tropical savannas comprise the largest areas burned and greatest emissions sources from vegetation wildfires. Fires in Mediterranean forests and shrublands, tropical forests and boreal forests are also significant sources of emissions because they are generally characterised by much higher fuel loads per unit area compared with grasslands. Improved satellite data and sophisticated biogeochemical modeling enables emis-sions assessments on a global scale with fine spatial and temporal resolution. Emissions estimates are still comparable to those based on older inventory-based techniques, but uncertainties remain large. Fires increase during El Niño periods because parts of the tropics where humans use fire as a tool for deforestation experience drought conditions. These spikes contribute to the inter-annual variability of CO2 and CH4 observed in the atmosphere. Recently developed dynamic fire-vegetation models are capable of simulating the extent of wildfires as well as their emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases for ambient as well as for projected climatic conditions. The performance of fire-vegetation models however needs to be strongly improved and validated.

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