Forest fires, brush fires, and slash and burn agriculturetypes of biomass burningare a significant force for environmental change, both locally and globally. Intentional deforestation by burning radically alters local landscapes. At regional scales, fires naturally shape ecosystems such as the boreal forest (Canada, Alaska, and Russia) and chapparral (Southern California). Globally, fires may play an important role in climate change, emitting both greenhouse gases and smoke particles (aerosols) into the atmosphere. These emissions almost certainly played a role in the 0.5° Celsius increase in the Earth's average surface temperature over the past 100 years.
Current global estimates of gas and particulate (aerosol) emissions from biomass burning in the open literature are extremely approximate and vary considerably:
These emission products promote the formation of polluted clouds and affect the Earth's radiant energy budget (heat and sunlight) in ways that influence climate on a regional and global scale.
Fire has always been and continues to be an integral part of land use and culture around the World. Earth Scientists are placing greater emphasis on obtaining more accurate assessments of emissions from biomass burning. Remote sensing of fires, smoke and even burn scars (transformed area where the fire burned) allows for improved detection of fire characteristics as well as their short- and long-term effects on ecosystems.
next: Why are Fires Important?