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Keywords:

  • boreal fires;
  • dynamic vegetation model;
  • land model disturbance;
  • land model comparison;
  • fire data assimilation

Abstract

[1] Fire is an endemic process at high latitudes, connected to a range of other land surface properties, such as land cover, biomass, and permafrost, and intimately linked to the carbon balance of the high-latitude land surface. Much of our current understanding of these links and their climate consequences is through land surface models, so it is important to ensure that for their credibility, these models should be consistent with available data. Over the vast panboreal region, a key source of information on fire is satellite data. Comparisons between satellite-based burned area data from the Global Fire Emissions Database and three dynamic vegetation models (LPJ-WM, CLM4CN, and SDGVM) indicate that all models fail to represent the observed spatial and temporal properties of the fire regime. Although the three dynamic vegetation models give comparable values of the boreal net biome production (NBP), fire emissions are found to differ by a factor 4 between the models, because of widely different estimates of burned area and because of different parameterizations of the fuel load and combustion process. Including a more realistic representation of the fire regime in the models shows that for northern high latitudes, (i) severe fire years do not coincide with source years or vice versa, (ii) the interannual variability of fire emissions does not significantly affect the interannual variability of NBP, and (iii) overall biomass values alter only slightly, but the spatial distribution of biomass exhibits changes. We also demonstrate that it is crucial to alter the current representations of fire occurrence and severity in land surface models if the links between permafrost and fire are to be captured, in particular, the dynamics of permafrost properties, such as active layer depth. This is especially important if models are to be used to predict the effects of a changing climate, because of the consequences of permafrost changes for greenhouse gas emissions, hydrology, and land cover.