EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Biomass recovery after fires dominates the carbon sink of boreal forests over the last three decades

Yidi Xu1, Philippe Ciais1, Wei Li2, Sassan Saatchi3, Maurizio Santoro4, Alessandro Cescatti5, Dmitry Shchepashchenko6,7, Guojin He8, Ceccherini Guido5, Jiaying He2, Lei Fan9, Martin Brandt10, Rasmus Fensholt10, Jean-Pierre Wigneron11, Heather Kay12, Stephen Sitch13, Ana Bastos14, Simon Bowing1, François Ritter1, and Ibrahim Fayad1
Yidi Xu et al.
  • 1Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  • 2Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  • 3Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
  • 4Gamma Remote Sensing, Gümligen, Switzerland
  • 5Bio-Economy Unit, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy
  • 6International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria
  • 7Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk, Russia
  • 8Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 9Chongqing Jinfo Mountain Karst Ecosystem National Observation and Research Station, School of Geographical Sciences, Southwest University, Chongqing, China.
  • 10Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 11ISPA, UMR 1391, INRAE Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Villenave d’Ornon, France
  • 12Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3FL, United Kingdom
  • 13Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  • 14Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Dept. of Biogeochemical Integration, Jena, Germany

Wildfires are an integral part of boreal forest dynamics. Understanding the carbon loss/recovery associated with fires is crucial to assess the stability of these slow-growing forests.  Yet, the carbon balance from fires and post-fire forest recovery remain uncertain at the biome scale due to the lack of spatial details about rates of forest regrowth. Here, we quantify carbon losses from fire emissions and gains from post-fire regrowth using high spatial-resolution satellite data and a bookkeeping model. We combined a 35-year long record of burned area from the Landsat satellites since 1985 with local biomass-age regrowth curves derived from high-resolution satellite-based above ground biomass (AGB) datasets. We found that forests in Eurasia tend to recover faster and reach higher biomass levels than those in North America. Young forests recovering from post-1985 wildfires produced a carbon sink of 652±200 TgC during the period 1985 to 2020. The additional recovery of older secondary forests that burned before 1985 further adds a cumulative sink of 1659±346 TgC. Comparatively, old-growth forests that did not burn accumulated 930±233 TgC during the period 1985-2020. This result shows 71% of the contemporary carbon sink in AGB is contributed by recovery from fires. After accounting for fire emissions each year and for the slow decay of coarse woody debris after burning, the net AGB carbon sink in boreal forests is 2108±234 TgC during 1985-2020. This study provides the first spatially explicit aboveground observation-based carbon budget of boreal forests and provides insights on the key factors that will control its future evolution.

How to cite: Xu, Y., Ciais, P., Li, W., Saatchi, S., Santoro, M., Cescatti, A., Shchepashchenko, D., He, G., Guido, C., He, J., Fan, L., Brandt, M., Fensholt, R., Wigneron, J.-P., Kay, H., Sitch, S., Bastos, A., Bowing, S., Ritter, F., and Fayad, I.: Biomass recovery after fires dominates the carbon sink of boreal forests over the last three decades, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-9695,, 2023.