Global fire emissions and the contribution of deforestation, savanna, forest, agricultural, and peat fires (1997–2009)
1Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
3Science Systems and Applications, Inc., Greenbelt, MD, USA
4NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
5Nicholas School of the Environmental and Earth Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
6Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Abstract. New burned area datasets and top-down constraints from atmospheric concentration measurements of pyrogenic gases have decreased the large uncertainty in fire emissions estimates. However, significant gaps remain in our understanding of the contribution of deforestation, savanna, forest, agricultural waste, and peat fires to total global fire emissions. Here we used a revised version of the Carnegie-Ames-Stanford-Approach (CASA) biogeochemical model and improved satellite-derived estimates of area burned, fire activity, and plant productivity to calculate fire emissions for the 1997–2009 period on a 0.5° spatial resolution with a monthly time step. For November 2000 onwards, estimates were based on burned area, active fire detections, and plant productivity from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor. For the partitioning we focused on the MODIS era. We used burned area estimates based on Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS) and Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) active fire data prior to MODIS (1997–2000) and Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) derived estimates of plant productivity during the same period. Average global fire carbon emissions were 2.0 Pg yr−1 with significant interannual variability during 1997–2001 (2.8 Pg yr−1 in 1998 and 1.6 Pg yr−1 in 2001). Emissions during 2002–2007 were relatively constant (around 2.1 Pg yr−1) before declining in 2008 (1.7 Pg yr−1) and 2009 (1.5 Pg yr−1) partly due to lower deforestation fire emissions in South America and tropical Asia. During 2002–2007, emissions were highly variable from year-to-year in many regions, including in boreal Asia, South America, and Indonesia, but these regional differences cancelled out at a global level. During the MODIS era (2001–2009), most fire carbon emissions were from fires in grasslands and savannas (44%) with smaller contributions from tropical deforestation and degradation fires (20%), woodland fires (mostly confined to the tropics, 16%), forest fires (mostly in the extratropics, 15%), agricultural waste burning (3%), and tropical peat fires (3%). The contribution from agricultural waste fires was likely a lower bound because our approach for measuring burned area could not detect all of these relatively small fires. For reduced trace gases such as CO and CH4, deforestation, degradation, and peat fires were more important contributors because of higher emissions of reduced trace gases per unit carbon combusted compared to savanna fires. Carbon emissions from tropical deforestation, degradation, and peatland fires were on average 0.5 Pg C yr−1. The carbon emissions from these fires may not be balanced by regrowth following fire. Our results provide the first global assessment of the contribution of different sources to total global fire emissions for the past decade, and supply the community with an improved 13-year fire emissions time series.