Mapping and quantifying post-fire carbon budget in Amazonia

Global climate change and the large-scale loss of the tropical forests are probably the most urgent of contemporary environmental problems. Some global circulation models suggest that Amazonia may be vulnerable to extreme drying in response to circulation shifts induced by global warming, with a significant probability of enhanced dry seasons in eastern Amazonia.

In the event of long-term drying and increased drought frequency in the Amazon region, the leakage of deliberate fires into forest areas is likely to be the major agent of forest transformation rather than changes in forest ecology and physiology. This process has an important influence on the global carbon cycling by affecting vegetation structure, changing carbon pools and fluxes, and causing feedbacks to the atmosphere, but it is thus far poorly quantified. The lack of systematic information (spatial and temporal) on these processes is a critical limitation when estimating the magnitude of this carbon source and consequent maintenance of the Amazon forest biome and its ecosystem function. The 21st century is bringing ongoing forest clearance, degradation and fragmentation, coupled with a probability of more frequent drought.

In this context, fires in Amazonian forests are almost certain to increase in occurrence: Hence my main research aim in this fellowship is to combine information from multi-temporal satellite images with extensive field data on the component processes of the net ecosystem productivity (NEP) to obtain the first detailed and spatially extensive assessment of the long-term effect of forest fires on the carbon balance of Amazonian forests.

If you would like to find out more about this research, please contact (Dr. Luiz Aragao) []

Photos and images

Uploaded 6 Feb 2014 by Cécile Girardin. Copyright © 2022.

Congratulations to the GEM team (Chris, Yadvinder & Liana) who co-authored a paper in Nature this week (cover story):

"The paper answers a long-standing question about the net carbon balance of the Amazon forest. It uses aircraft flights throughout the year at four different locations to measure the change in carbon dioxide concentration if air as it passes over the Amazon Basin. The study shows that in wet years and wet seasons the Amazon is a net sink (i.e. absorbs carbon) from the atmosphere, but in dry years and dry seasons it is carbon neutral or a source of carbon. Our main contribution in Oxford was to provide insight from our RAINFOR-GEM intensive monitoring plots across Amazonia, which suggest that the loss of the carbon sink was caused by a reduction in photosynthesis." (Y. Malhi blog, Feb 2014)

Gatti L.V., M. Gloor, J. B. Miller, C. E. Doughty, Y. Malhi, L. G. Domingues, L. S. Basso, A. Martinewski, C. S. C. Correia, V. F. Borges, S. Freitas, R. Braz, L. O. Anderson, H. Rocha, J. Grace, O. L. Phillips & J. Lloyd Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements, Nature 506, 76–80. Supplementary Info

Download the paper from here:

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    Yadvinder Malhi

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    Georgia Pickavance

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    Oliver Phillips

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