Estimating burn severity and carbon emissions from a historic megafire in boreal forests of China
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Wenru Xu; Hong S. He; Todd J. Hawbaker; Zhiliang Zhu; Paul D. Henne
Publication Year: 2020

Cataloging Information

  • Black Dragon fire
  • boreal forest
  • burn severity
  • China
  • combustion efficiency
  • fire severity
  • megafires
  • remote sensing
  • International
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: April 14, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 60674


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.

Online Link(s):
Xu, Wenru; He, Hong S.; Hawbaker, Todd J.; Zhu, Zhiliang; Henne, Paul D. 2020. Estimating burn severity and carbon emissions from a historic megafire in boreal forests of China. Science of the Total Environment 716:136534.