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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Guangsheng Chen; Daniel J. Hayes; A. David McGuire
Publication Date: 2017

Burn area and the frequency of extreme fire events have been increasing during recent decades in North America, and this trend is expected to continue over the 21st century. While many aspects of the North American carbon budget have been intensively studied, the net contribution of fire disturbance to the overall net carbon flux at the continental scale remains uncertain. Based on national scale, spatially explicit and long-term fire data, along with the improved model parameterization in a process-based ecosystem model, we simulated the impact of fire disturbance on both direct carbon emissions and net terrestrial ecosystem carbon balance in North America. Fire-caused direct carbon emissions were 106.55 ± 15.98 Tg C/yr during 1990–2012; however, the net ecosystem carbon balance associated with fire was −26.09 ± 5.22 Tg C/yr, indicating that most of the emitted carbon was resequestered by the terrestrial ecosystem. Direct carbon emissions showed an increase in Alaska and Canada during 1990–2012 as compared to prior periods due to more extreme fire events, resulting in a large carbon source from these two regions. Among biomes, the largest carbon source was found to be from the boreal forest, primarily due to large reductions in soil organic matter during, and with slower recovery after, fire events. The interactions between fire and environmental factors reduced the fire-caused ecosystem carbon source. Fire disturbance only caused a weak carbon source as compared to the best estimate terrestrial carbon sink in North America owing to the long-term legacy effects of historical burn area coupled with fast ecosystem recovery during 1990–2012.

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Citation: Chen, Guangsheng; Hayes, Daniel J.; McGuire, A. David. 2017. Contributions of wildland fire to terrestrial ecosystem carbon dynamics in North America from 1990 to 2012. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 31(5):878-900.

Cataloging Information

  • boreal forest
  • C - carbon
  • Canada
  • carbon dynamics
  • carbon flux
  • wildfires
  • wildland fire
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 25487