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Estimating burn severity and carbon emissions from a megafire in boreal forests of China

January 22, 2020

Wildfires, especially those of large size, worsen air quality and alter the carbon cycle through combustion of large quantities of biomass and release of carbon into the atmosphere. The Black Dragon fire, which occurred in 1987 in the boreal forests of China is among the top five of such megafires ever recorded in the world. With over 30 years of accumulation of data and availability of new greenhouse gas emission accounting methods, carbon emissions from this megafire can now be estimated with improved precision and greater spatial resolution. To do this, we combined field and remote sensing data to map four burn severity classes and calculated combustion efficiency in terms of the biomass immediately consumed in the fire. Results of the study showed that 1.30 million hectares burned and 52% of that area burned with high severity. The emitted carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), accounted for approximately 10% of total fossil fuel emissions from China in 1987, along with CO (2%–3% of annual anthropogenic CO emissions from China) and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) contributing to the atmospheric pollutants. Our study provides an important basis for carbon emission estimation and understanding the impacts of megafires.

Publication Year 2020
Title Estimating burn severity and carbon emissions from a megafire in boreal forests of China
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136534
Authors Wenru Xu, Hong S He, Todd Hawbaker, Zhiliang Zhu, Paul Henne
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70208610
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center