Pyrogenic organic matter production from wildfires: a missing sink in the global carbon cycle

  • Santín C
  • Doerr S
  • Preston C
 et al. 
  • 112

    Readers

    Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
  • 67

    Citations

    Citations of this article.

Abstract

Wildfires release substantial quantities of carbon (C) into the atmosphere but they also convert part of the burnt biomass into pyrogenic organic matter (PyOM). This is richer in C and, overall, more resistant to environmental degradation than the original biomass, and, therefore, PyOM production is an efficient mechanism for C sequestration. The magnitude of this C sink, however, remains poorly quantified, and current production estimates, which suggest that ~1-5% of the C affected by fire is converted to PyOM, are based on incomplete inventories. Here, we quantify, for the first time, the complete range of PyOM components found in-situ immediately after a typical boreal forest fire. We utilized an experimental high-intensity crown fire in a jack pine forest (Pinus banksiana) and carried out a detailed pre- and postfire inventory and quantification of all fuel components, and the PyOM (i.e., all visually charred, blackened materials) produced in each of them. Our results show that, overall, 27.6% of the C affected by fire was retained in PyOM (4.8 ± 0.8 t C ha(-1) ), rather than emitted to the atmosphere (12.6 ± 4.5 t C ha(-1) ). The conversion rates varied substantially between fuel components. For down wood and bark, over half of the C affected was converted to PyOM, whereas for forest floor it was only one quarter, and less than a tenth for needles. If the overall conversion rate found here were applicable to boreal wildfire in general, it would translate into a PyOM production of ~100 Tg C yr(-1) by wildfire in the global boreal regions, more than five times the amount estimated previously. Our findings suggest that PyOM production from boreal wildfires, and potentially also from other fire-prone ecosystems, may have been underestimated and that its quantitative importance as a C sink warrants its inclusion in the global C budget estimates.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biochar
  • Black carbon
  • Boreal forest
  • Carbon emissions
  • Charcoal
  • Firesmart experimental fire
  • Pyrogenic carbon

Get free article suggestions today

Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research

Sign up here
Already have an account ?Sign in

Find this document

Authors

Cite this document

Choose a citation style from the tabs below

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free