Articles | Volume 10, issue 9
Geosci. Model Dev., 10, 3329–3357, 2017

Special issue: Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) Experimental...

Geosci. Model Dev., 10, 3329–3357, 2017

Model experiment description paper 11 Sep 2017

Model experiment description paper | 11 Sep 2017

Historic global biomass burning emissions for CMIP6 (BB4CMIP) based on merging satellite observations with proxies and fire models (1750–2015)

Margreet J. E. van Marle1,a, Silvia Kloster2, Brian I. Magi3, Jennifer R. Marlon4, Anne-Laure Daniau5, Robert D. Field6, Almut Arneth7, Matthew Forrest8, Stijn Hantson7, Natalie M. Kehrwald9, Wolfgang Knorr10, Gitta Lasslop2, Fang Li11, Stéphane Mangeon12, Chao Yue13, Johannes W. Kaiser14, and Guido R. van der Werf1 Margreet J. E. van Marle et al.
  • 1Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 2Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstraße 53, Hamburg, Germany
  • 3Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, USA
  • 4School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
  • 5Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux, UMR EPOC 5805 CNRS, University of Bordeaux, Pessac, France
  • 6NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, USA
  • 7Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate research, Atmospheric Environmental Research, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 8Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Institute (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 9Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, US Geological Survey, Lakewood, CO, USA
  • 10Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
  • 11International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 12Department of Physics, Imperial College London, London, UK
  • 13Laboratoire des Sciences du Climate et de l'Environnement, LSCE/IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Universite Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  • 14Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany
  • anow at: Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. Fires have influenced atmospheric composition and climate since the rise of vascular plants, and satellite data have shown the overall global extent of fires. Our knowledge of historic fire emissions has progressively improved over the past decades due mostly to the development of new proxies and the improvement of fire models. Currently, there is a suite of proxies including sedimentary charcoal records, measurements of fire-emitted trace gases and black carbon stored in ice and firn, and visibility observations. These proxies provide opportunities to extrapolate emission estimates back in time based on satellite data starting in 1997, but each proxy has strengths and weaknesses regarding, for example, the spatial and temporal extents over which they are representative. We developed a new historic biomass burning emissions dataset starting in 1750 that merges the satellite record with several existing proxies and uses the average of six models from the Fire Model Intercomparison Project (FireMIP) protocol to estimate emissions when the available proxies had limited coverage. According to our approach, global biomass burning emissions were relatively constant, with 10-year averages varying between 1.8 and 2.3 Pg C yr−1. Carbon emissions increased only slightly over the full time period and peaked during the 1990s after which they decreased gradually. There is substantial uncertainty in these estimates, and patterns varied depending on choices regarding data representation, especially on regional scales. The observed pattern in fire carbon emissions is for a large part driven by African fires, which accounted for 58 % of global fire carbon emissions. African fire emissions declined since about 1950 due to conversion of savanna to cropland, and this decrease is partially compensated for by increasing emissions in deforestation zones of South America and Asia. These global fire emission estimates are mostly suited for global analyses and will be used in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) simulations.

Short summary
Fire emission estimates are a key input dataset for climate models. We have merged satellite information with proxy datasets and fire models to reconstruct fire emissions since 1750 AD. Our dataset indicates that, on a global scale, fire emissions were relatively constant over time. Since roughly 1950, declining emissions from savannas were approximately balanced by increased emissions from tropical deforestation zones.