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Geoscientific Model Development An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Model experiment description paper
08 Feb 2017
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper was accepted for the journal Geoscientific Model Development (GMD) and is expected to appear here in due course.
Historic global biomass burning emissions based on merging satellite observations with proxies and fire models (1750–2015)
Margreet J. E. van Marle1, 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 1Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
2Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstraße 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
3Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
4School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, USA
5Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux, UMR EPOC 5805 CNRS, University of Bordeaux, 33615 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, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
8Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Institute (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
9Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Lakewood, Colorado, USA
10Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University, 22362 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, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
14Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany
Abstract. Fires have influenced atmospheric composition and climate since the rise of vascular plants, and satellite data has 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 emissions estimates based on satellite data starting in 1997 back in time, 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 year−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 emissions estimates are mostly suited for global analyses and will be used in the IPCC CMIP simulations.

Citation: van Marle, M. J. E., Kloster, S., Magi, B. I., Marlon, J. R., Daniau, A.-L., Field, R. D., Arneth, A., Forrest, M., Hantson, S., Kehrwald, N. M., Knorr, W., Lasslop, G., Li, F., Mangeon, S., Yue, C., Kaiser, J. W., and van der Werf, G. R.: Historic global biomass burning emissions based on merging satellite observations with proxies and fire models (1750–2015), Geosci. Model Dev. Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Margreet J. E. van Marle et al.
Margreet J. E. van Marle et al.


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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.
Fire emission estimates are a key input dataset for climate models. We have merged satellite...