Aerosols emitted by landscape fires affect many climatic processes. Here, we combined an aerosol–climate model and a coupled climate-carbon model to study the carbon cycle and climate effects caused by fire-emitted aerosols (FEA) forcing at the top of the atmosphere and at the surface. This forcing ('best guess' present-day values of −0.10 and −1.3 W m−2 at the top of the atmosphere and surface, respectively) had a predominant cooling influence that altered regional land carbon stocks on decadal timescales by modifying vegetation productivity and soil-litter decomposition. Changes in regional land and ocean carbon stocks became much stronger for FEA forcing acting on multi-century timescales; this occurred because carbon stocks responded to the forcing itself on such timescales and also due to gradual effects on the climate (e.g. through increased sea ice cover) that further affected the carbon cycle. Carbon increases and decreases in different regions partly offset each other, so that absolute changes in global land, atmosphere, and ocean stocks were all <2 Pg C after 30 years of FEA forcing and <6 Pg C after more than 1000 years of FEA forcing. FEA-caused changes in land carbon storage did not substantially modify the magnitude of FEA emissions, suggesting there is no consequential regional-scale positive feedback loop between these two elements. However, we found indications that the FEA-caused cooling from frequently-burning regions in Africa and Australia increased land carbon stocks in eastern South America and equatorial Asia, respectively. This suggests the potential for remote carbon cycle effects from regions emitting large amounts of fire aerosols.
Landry, Jean-Sébastien; Partanen, Antti-Ilari; Matthews, H. Damon. 2018. Carbon cycle and climate effects of forcing from fire-emitted aerosols. Environmental Research Letters 12(2):025002.