BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Fire Affects Global Land Temperatures and Energy Flows by Restructuring Ecosystems
Published: April 03, 2017
Posted: January 26, 2018

Researchers examined the integrated effects of fire at a global scale.

The Science
Fire is a global phenomenon that affects the biosphere and climate in complex ways. Only complex Earth system models (ESMs) can provide an integrated, consistent picture of these effects, which are not well understood. To address this, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory contributed to a study that compared “fire-on” and “fire-off” ESM simulations for the 20th century.

The Impact
This study provided the first quantitative assessment of fire’s influence on global land temperatures and energy flows, documenting the subsequent effect on terrestrial ecosystems.

Knowing exactly how fire affects climate at a global scale—whether by sending smoke to the atmosphere, changing the light environment of ecosystems, or another mechanism—requires complex ESMs with realistic fire capabilities. Researchers in this study used the Community Earth System Model to provide the first quantitative assessment of fire’s influence on the global annual land surface air temperature and energy budget. The model simulates the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice. For the 20th century, fire-induced changes in terrestrial ecosystems significantly increased global land annual mean surface air temperature by 0.18 degrees Celsius, and decreased surface net radiation and latent heat flux (the energy carried away by the evaporation of water) by 1.08 W m-2 and 0.99 W m-2, respectively. However, the changes had limited influence on sensible heat flux and ground heat flux. Fire effects were most clearly seen in the tropical savannas. These results suggest that fire-induced damage to the vegetation canopy increases surface air temperature predominantly by reducing latent heat flux.

Contacts (BER PM)
Dorothy Koch
Earth System Modeling

(PNNL Contact)

Ben Bond-Lamberty
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The National Natural Science Foundation of China, the State Key Project for Basic Research Program of China, and the China Scholarship Council co-supported this research. The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research supported BBL as part of the Earth System Modeling (ESM) program through the Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy (ACME) project. The U.S. Department of Energy supported DML.

Li, F., D.M. Lawrence, B. Bond-Lamberty. “Impact of Fire on Global Land Surface Air Temperature and Energy Budget for the 20th Century due to Changes within Ecosystems.” Environmental Research Letters 12, 044014 (2017). [DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa6685]
(Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Jan 11, 2022
No Honor Among Copper Thieves
Findings provide a novel means to manipulate methanotrophs for a variety of environmental and in [more...]

Dec 06, 2021
New Genome Editing Tools Can Edit Within Microbial Communities
Two new technologies allow scientists to edit specific species and genes within complex laborato [more...]

Oct 27, 2021
Fungal Recyclers: Fungi Reuse Fire-Altered Organic Matter
Degrading pyrogenic (fire-affected) organic matter is an important ecosystem function of fungi i [more...]

Oct 19, 2021
Microbes Offer a Glimpse into the Future of Climate Change
Scientists identify key features in microbes that predict how warming affects carbon dioxide emi [more...]

Aug 25, 2021
Assessing the Production Cost and Carbon Footprint of a Promising Aviation Biofuel
Biomass-derived DMCO has the potential to serve as a low-carbon, high-performance jet fuel blend [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)