Simulating effects of fire disturbance and climate change on boreal forest productivity and evapotranspiration

Sinkyu Kang, John S. Kimball, Steven W. Running

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59 Scopus citations


We used a terrestrial ecosystem process model, BIOME-BGC, to investigate historical climate change and fire disturbance effects on regional carbon and water budgets within a 357,500 km2 portion of the Canadian boreal forest. Historical patterns of increasing atmospheric CO2, climate change, and regional fire activity were used as model drivers to evaluate the relative effects of these impacts to spatial patterns and temporal trends in forest net primary production (NPP) and evapotranspiration (ET). Historical trends of increasing atmospheric CO2 resulted in overall 13% and 5% increases in annual NPP and ET from 1994 to 1996, respectively. NPP was found to be relatively sensitive to changes in air temperature (Ta), while ET was more sensitive to precipitation (P) change within the ranges of observed climate variability (e.g., ± 2 °C for Ta and ± 20% for P). In addition, the potential effect of climate change related warming on NPP is exacerbated or offset depending on whether these changes are accompanied by respective decreases or increases in precipitation. Historical fire activity generally resulted in reductions of both NPP and ET, which consumed an average of approximately 6% of annual NPP from 1959 to 1996. Areas currently occupied by dry conifer forests were found to be subject to more frequent fire activity, which consumed approximately 8% of annual NPP. The results of this study show that the North American boreal ecosystem is sensitive to historical patterns of increasing atmospheric CO2, climate change and regional fire activity. The relative impacts of these disturbances on NPP and ET interact in complex ways and are spatially variable depending on regional land cover and climate gradients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-102
Number of pages18
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2006


  • Boreal forest
  • CO
  • Climate change
  • ET
  • Fire
  • NPP
  • Simulation
  • Spatial modeling


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