May 27, 2020
Journal Article

Human impacts on 20th century fire dynamics and implications for global carbon and water trajectories

Fang Li
David Lawrence
Benjamin Bond-Lamberty

Abstract

Fire is a fundamental Earth system process and the primary ecosystem disturbance on the global scale. It affects carbon and water cycles through changing terrestrial ecosystems, and at the same time, is regulated by weather and climate, vegetation characteristics, and, importantly, human ignitions and suppression (i.e., the direct human effect on fire). Here, we utilize the Community Land Model version 4.5 (CLM4.5) to quantify the impacts of changes in human ignition and suppression on fire dynamics and associated carbon and water cycles. We find that the impact is to significantly reduce the 20th century global burned area by a century average of 38 Mha/yr and by 103 Mha/yr at the end of the century. Land carbon gain is weakened by 17% over the 20th century, mainly due to increased human deforestation fires and associated escape fires (i.e., degradation fires) in the tropical humid forests, even though the decrease in burned area in many other regions due to human fire suppression acts to increase land carbon gain. The direct human effect on fire weakens the upward trend in global runoff throughout the century by 6% and enhances the upward trend in global evapotranspiration since ~ 1945 by 7%. In addition, the above impacts in densely populated, highly developed (if population density > 0.1 person/km2), or moderately populated and developed regions are of opposite sign to those in other regions. Our study suggests that particular attention should be paid to human deforestation and degradation fires in the tropical humid forests when reconstructing and projecting fire carbon emissions and net atmosphere-land carbon exchange and estimating resultant impacts of direct human effect on fire.

Revised: May 27, 2020 | Published: March 1, 2018

Citation

Li F., D.M. Lawrence, and B. Bond-Lamberty. 2018. "Human impacts on 20th century fire dynamics and implications for global carbon and water trajectories." Global and Planetary Change 162. PNNL-SA-128110. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2018.01.002