Century-scale patterns and trends of global pyrogenic carbon emissions and fire influences on terrestrial carbon balance

Fires have consumed a large amount of terrestrial organic carbon and significantly influenced terrestrial ecosystems and the physical climate system over the past century. Although biomass burning has been widely investigated at a global level in recent decades via satellite observations, less work has been conducted to examine the century-scale changes in global fire regimes and fire influences on the terrestrial carbon balance. In this study, we investigated global pyrogenic carbon emissions and fire influences on the terrestrial carbon fluxes from 1901 to 2010 by using a process-based land ecosystem model. Our results show a significant declining trend in global pyrogenic carbon emissions between the early 20th century and the mid-1980s but a significant upward trend between the mid-1980s and the 2000s as a result of more frequent fires in ecosystems with high carbon storage, such as peatlands and tropical forests. Over the past 110 years, average pyrogenic carbon emissions were estimated to be 2.43 Pg C yr-1 (1 Pg = 1015 g), and global average combustion rate (defined as carbon emissions per unit area burned) was 537.85 g C m-2 burned area. Due to the impacts of fires, the net primary productivity and carbon sink of global terrestrial ecosystems were reduced by 4.14 Pg C yr-1 and 0.57 Pg C yr-1, respectively. Our study suggests that special attention should be paid to fire activities in the peatlands and tropical forests in the future. Practical management strategies, such as minimizing forest logging and reducing the rate of cropland expansion in the humid regions, are in need to reduce fire risk and mitigate fire-induced greenhouse gases emissions.
  • Authors: Yang, J., Tian, H., Tao, B., Ren, W., Lu, C., Pan, S., Wang, Y., Liu, Y.
  • Author Affiliation: Auburn University, Georgia Institute of Technology, USDA-Forest Service
  • Subjects: fire, organic carbon, emissions, abouveground biomass, peatlands, tropical forests, carbon sinks
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Global Biogeochemical Cycles 29(9): 1549-1566
  • Year: 2015
  • DOI:
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