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Carbon dioxide and particulate emissions from the 2013 Tasmanian firestorm: implications for Australian carbon accounting

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 07:48 authored by Mercy NdalilaMercy Ndalila, Grant WilliamsonGrant Williamson, David BowmanDavid Bowman

Background Uncontrolled wildfires in Australian temperate Eucalyptus forests produce significant smoke emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulates. Emissions from fires in these ecosystems, however, have received less research attention than the fires in North American conifer forests or frequently burned Australian tropical savannas. Here, we use the 2013 Forcett–Dunalley fire that caused the first recorded pyrocumulonimbus event in Tasmania, to understand CO2 and particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from a severe Eucalyptus forest fire. We investigate the spatial patterns of the two emissions using a fine scale mapping of vegetation and fire severity (50 m resolution), and utilising available emission factors suitable for Australian vegetation types. We compare the results with coarse-scale (28 km resolution) emissions estimates from Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) to determine the reliability of the global model in emissions estimation.

Results The fine scale inventory yielded total CO2 emission of 1.125 ± 0.232 Tg and PM2.5 emission of 0.022 ± 0.006 Tg, representing a loss of 56 t CO2 ha−1 and 1 t PM2.5 ha−1. The CO2 emissions were comparable to GFED estimates, but GFED PM2.5 estimates were lower by a factor of three. This study highlights the reliability of GFED for CO2 but not PM2.5 for estimating emissions from Eucalyptus forest fires. Our fine scale and GFED estimates showed that the Forcett–Dunalley fire produced 30% of 2013 fire carbon emissions in Tasmania, and 26–36% of mean annual fire emissions for the State, representing a significant single source of emissions.

Conclusions Our analyses highlight the need for improved PM2.5 emission factors specific to Australian vegetation, and better characterisation of fuel loads, particularly coarse fuel loads, to quantify wildfire particulate and greenhouse gas emissions more accurately. Current Australian carbon accountancy approach of excluding large wildfires from final GHG accounts likely exaggerates Tasmania’s claim to carbon neutrality; we therefore recommend that planned and unplanned emissions are included in the final national and state greenhouse gas accounting to international conventions. Advancing these issues is important given the trajectory of more frequent large fires driven by anthropogenic climate change.

Funding

NSW Office of Environment & Heritage

History

Publication title

Carbon Balance and Management

Volume

17

Issue

7

Pagination

1-18

ISSN

1750-0680

Department/School

School of Natural Sciences

Publisher

BioMed Central Ltd

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2022. The Authors. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Carbon and emissions trading; Climatological hazards (e.g. extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires)