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Publication Date
27 January 2020

Using CESM-RESFire to understand climate–fire–ecosystem interactions and the implications for decadal climate variability



Large wildfires exert strong disturbance on regional and global climate systems and ecosystems by perturbing radiative forcing as well as the carbon and water balance between the atmosphere and land surface, while short- and long-term variations in fire weather, terrestrial ecosystems, and human activity modulate fire intensity and reshape fire regimes. The complex climate–fire–ecosystem interactions were not fully integrated in previous climate model studies, and the resulting effects on the projections of future climate change are not well understood. Here we use the fully interactive REgion-Specific ecosystem feedback Fire model (RESFire) that was developed in the Community Earth System Model (CESM) to investigate these interactions and their impacts on climate systems and fire activity. We designed two sets of decadal simulations using CESM-RESFire for present-day (2001–2010) and future (2051–2060) scenarios, respectively, and conducted a series of sensitivity experiments to assess the effects of individual feedback pathways among climate, fire, and ecosystems. Our implementation of RESFire, which includes online land–atmosphere coupling of fire emissions and fire-induced land cover change (LCC), reproduces the observed aerosol optical depth (AOD) from space-based Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite products and ground-based AErosol RObotic NETwork (AERONET) data; it agrees well with carbon budget benchmarks from previous studies. We estimate the global averaged net radiative effect of both fire aerosols and fire-induced LCC at −0.59±0.52 W m−2, which is dominated by fire aerosol–cloud interactions (−0.82±0.19 W m−2), in the present-day scenario under climatological conditions of the 2000s. The fire-related net cooling effect increases by ∼170 % to −1.60±0.27 W m−2 in the 2050s under the conditions of the Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5) scenario. Such considerably enhanced radiative effect is attributed to the largely increased global burned area (+19 %) and fire carbon emissions (+100 %) from the 2000s to the 2050s driven by climate change. The net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of carbon between the land and atmosphere components in the simulations increases by 33 % accordingly, implying that biomass burning is an increasing carbon source at short-term timescales in the future. High-latitude regions with prevalent peatlands would be more vulnerable to increased fire threats due to climate change, and the increase in fire aerosols could counter the projected decrease in anthropogenic aerosols due to air pollution control policies in many regions. We also evaluate two distinct feedback mechanisms that are associated with fire aerosols and fire-induced LCC, respectively. On a global scale, the first mechanism imposes positive feedbacks to fire activity through enhanced droughts with suppressed precipitation by fire aerosol–cloud interactions, while the second one manifests as negative feedbacks due to reduced fuel loads by fire consumption and post-fire tree mortality and recovery processes. These two feedback pathways with opposite effects compete at regional to global scales and increase the complexity of climate–fire–ecosystem interactions and their climatic impacts.
“Using Cesm-Resfire To Understand Climate&Amp;#8211;Fire&Amp;#8211;Ecosystem Interactions And The Implications For Decadal Climate Variability”. 2020. Atmospheric Chemistry And Physics 20: 995-1020. doi:10.5194/acp-20-995-2020.
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