Biophysical feedback of global forest fires on surface temperature

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The biophysical feedbacks of forest fire on Earth’s surface radiative budget remain uncertain at the global scale. Using satellite observations, we show that fire-induced forest loss accounts for about 15% of global forest loss, mostly in northern high latitudes. Forest fire increases surface temperature by 0.15 K (0.12 to 0.19 K) one year following fire in burned area globally. In high-latitudes, the initial positive climate-fire feedback was mainly attributed to reduced evapotranspiration and sustained for approximately 5 years. Over longer-term (> 5 years), increases in albedo dominated the surface radiative budget resulting in a net cooling effect. In tropical regions, fire had a long-term weaker warming effect mainly due to reduced evaporative cooling. Globally, biophysical feedbacks of fire-induced surface warming one year after fire are equivalent to 62% of warming due to annual fire-related CO 2 emissions. Our results suggest that changes in the severity and/or frequency of fire disturbance may have strong impacts on Earth’s surface radiative budget and climate, especially at high latitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


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