Model comparisons for estimating carbon emissions from North American wildland fire

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Abstract

[1] Research activities focused on estimating the direct emissions of carbon from wildland fires across North America are reviewed as part of the North American Carbon Program disturbance synthesis. A comparison of methods to estimate the loss of carbon from the terrestrial biosphere to the atmosphere from wildland fires is presented. Published studies on emissions from recent and historic time periods and five specific cases are summarized, and new emissions estimates are made using contemporary methods for a set of specific fire events. Results from as many as six terrestrial models are compared. We find that methods generally produce similar results within each case, but estimates vary based on site location, vegetation (fuel) type, and fire weather. Area normalized emissions range from 0.23 kg C m−2 for shrubland sites in southern California/NW Mexico to as high as 6.0 kg C m−2 in northern conifer forests. Total emissions range from 0.23 to 1.6 Tg C for a set of 2003 fires in chaparral-dominated landscapes of California to 3.9 to 6.2 Tg C in the dense conifer forests of western Oregon. While the results from models do not always agree, variations can be attributed to differences in model assumptions and methods, including the treatment of canopy consumption and methods to account for changes in fuel moisture, one of the main drivers of variability in fire emissions. From our review and synthesis, we identify key uncertainties and areas of improvement for understanding the magnitude and spatial-temporal patterns of pyrogenic carbon emissions across North America.

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