1Department of Hydrology and Geo-Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
3Science Systems and Applications, Inc., NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA
4NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA
5Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
*now at: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA
Abstract. Biomass burning represents an important source of atmospheric aerosols and greenhouse gases, yet little is known about its interannual variability or the underlying mechanisms regulating this variability at continental to global scales. Here we investigated fire emissions during the 8 year period from 1997 to 2004 using satellite data and the CASA biogeochemical model. Burned area from 2001–2004 was derived using newly available active fire and 500 m burned area datasets from MODIS following the approach described by Giglio et al. (2005). ATSR and VIRS satellite data were used to extend the burned area time series back in time through 1997. In our analysis we estimated fuel loads, including peatland fuels, and the net flux from terrestrial ecosystems as the balance between net primary production (NPP), heterotrophic respiration (Rh), and biomass burning, using time varying inputs of precipitation (PPT), temperature, solar radiation, and satellite-derived fractional absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (fAPAR). For the 1997–2004 period, we found that on average approximately 58 Pg C year−1 was fixed by plants, and approximately 95% of this was returned back to the atmosphere via Rh. Another 4%, or 2.5 Pg C year−1 was emitted by biomass burning; the remainder consisted of losses from fuel wood collection and subsequent burning. At a global scale, burned area and total fire emissions were largely decoupled from year to year. Total carbon emissions tracked burning in forested areas (including deforestation fires in the tropics), whereas burned area was largely controlled by savanna fires that responded to different environmental and human factors. Biomass burning emissions showed large interannual variability with a range of more than 1 Pg C year−1, with a maximum in 1998 (3.2 Pg C year−1) and a minimum in 2000 (2.0 Pg C year−1).