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Keywords:

  • boreal forest fires;
  • peatland fires

[1] The global boreal forest region experienced some 17.9 million ha of fire in 1998, which could be the highest level of the decade. Through the analysis of fire statistics from North America and satellite data from Russia, semimonthly estimates of area burned for five different regions in the boreal forest were generated and used to estimate total carbon release and CO2, CO, and CH4 emissions. Different levels of biomass, as well as different biomass categories, were considered for each of the five different regions (including peatlands in the Russian Far East and steppes in Siberia), as were different levels of fraction of biomass (carbon) consumed during fires. Finally, two levels of flaming versus smoldering combustion were considered in the model. Boreal forest fire emissions for 1998 were estimated to be 290–383 Tg of total carbon, 828–1103 Tg of CO2, 88–128 Tg of CO, and 2.9–4.7 Tg of CH4. The higher estimate represents 8.9% of total global carbon emissions from biomass burning, 13.8% of global fire CO emissions, and 12.4% of global fire CH4 emissions. Russian fires accounted for 71% of the total emissions, with the remainder (29%) from fires in North America. Assumptions regarding the level of smoldering versus flaming generally resulted in small (<4%) variations into the emissions estimates, although in two cases, these variations were higher (6% and 12%). We estimated that peatland fires in the Russian Far East contributed up to 40 Tg of carbon to the atmosphere in the fall of 1998. The combined seasonal CO emissions from forest and peatland fires in Russia are consistent with anomalously high atmospheric CO measurements collected at Point Barrow, Alaska.