Impact of prehistoric and present fire patterns on the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere
Document Type: Book Chapter
Author(s): W. A. Reiners; H. E. Wright
Editor(s): W. Stumm
Publication Year: 1977

Cataloging Information

  • biomass
  • carbon
  • carbon dioxide
  • fire frequency
  • wood
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 39105
Tall Timbers Record Number: 13737
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: DDW
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Fire is one of several natural and man-controlled agents that can alter the mass balance of terrestrial ecosystems. Frequent long-term burning generally decreases biomass and detritus, which together constitute a global carbon reservoir about three times that of the atmosphere. A quantitative assessment of variation in fire frequency over the Last several millennia is not possible; instead, we have estimated why, through changes in fire frequency and other agents, biomass and thus carbon storage have probably increased or decreased in North America in particular and in the world as a whole. We estimate that the net carbon reservoir of terrestrial ecosystems has definitely decreased in the last few thousand years, probably more from land clearing and subsequent burning than from a change in fire frequency itself. Special attention is directed to the global importance of the growing demand for wood as fuel.

Reiners, W. A., and H. E. Wright. 1977. Impact of prehistoric and present fire patterns on the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, in W Stumm ed., Global chemical cycles and their alteration by man. Berlin, dahlem Konferenzen, p. 121-135.