Northern Eurasia covers 20 percent of the global land mass and contains 70 percent of the boreal forest. During certain times of the year, black carbon in smoke plumes at high latitudes may be transported and deposited on Arctic ice, thereby accelerating ice melting. It is thus imperative to better understand daily sources, transport, and deposition of black carbon in Northern Eurasia.
Scientists examined daily black carbon emissions from fires over different land cover types in Northern Eurasia at a 500 m x 500 m (1,640 ft x 1,640 ft) resolution from 2002 to 2013. Black carbon emissions were estimated from MODIS land cover maps and detected burned areas, the Forest Inventory Survey of the Russian Federation, and emission factors of black carbon for different types of vegetation fires.
Our estimated annual burned areas in Northern Eurasia varied considerably from 160,000 km2 (~62,000 mi2) in 2011 to 490,000 km2 (~189,000 mi2) in 2003 with an average of 250,000 km2 (~96,000 mi2). Grassland dominates the total burned area (61 percent) and followed by forest (27 percent). For grassland fires, about three-quarters of the burned area occurred in Central and Western Asia and about 17 percent in Russia. More than 90 percent of the forest burned area was in Russia.
Annual black carbon emissions from fires varied enormously, but were dominated by forest fires, which accounted for about two-thirds of emissions, followed by grassland fires (15 percent). More than 90 percent of the black carbon emissions from forest fires occurred in Russia. Central and Western Asia is the major region for black carbon emissions from grassland fires. Overall, Russia contributed 83 percent of the total black carbon emissions from fires in Northern Eurasia. While results vary from year-to-year, there are no apparent trends in area burned or BC emissions from 2002 to 2013.
These results are critical in understanding the future impacts of climate change on the fire dynamics in Northern Eurasia and the contribution of black carbon to accelerated melting of Arctic ice.