Articles | Volume 11, issue 21
Biogeosciences, 11, 6017–6027, 2014

Special issue: Improving constraints on biospheric feedbacks in Earth system...

Biogeosciences, 11, 6017–6027, 2014

Research article 05 Nov 2014

Research article | 05 Nov 2014

Climate versus carbon dioxide controls on biomass burning: a model analysis of the glacial–interglacial contrast

M. Martin Calvo1, I. C. Prentice2,3, and S. P. Harrison3,4 M. Martin Calvo et al.
  • 1Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK
  • 2AXA Chair of Biosphere and Climate Impacts, Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment and Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK
  • 3Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia
  • 4Centre for Past Climate Change and School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences (SAGES), University of Reading, Whiteknights, RG6 6AH, Reading, UK

Abstract. Climate controls fire regimes through its influence on the amount and types of fuel present and their dryness. CO2 concentration constrains primary production by limiting photosynthetic activity in plants. However, although fuel accumulation depends on biomass production, and hence on CO2 concentration, the quantitative relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentration and biomass burning is not well understood. Here a fire-enabled dynamic global vegetation model (the Land surface Processes and eXchanges model, LPX) is used to attribute glacial–interglacial changes in biomass burning to an increase in CO2, which would be expected to increase primary production and therefore fuel loads even in the absence of climate change, vs. climate change effects. Four general circulation models provided last glacial maximum (LGM) climate anomalies – that is, differences from the pre-industrial (PI) control climate – from the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project Phase~2, allowing the construction of four scenarios for LGM climate. Modelled carbon fluxes from biomass burning were corrected for the model's observed prediction biases in contemporary regional average values for biomes. With LGM climate and low CO2 (185 ppm) effects included, the modelled global flux at the LGM was in the range of 1.0–1.4 Pg C year-1, about a third less than that modelled for PI time. LGM climate with pre-industrial CO2 (280 ppm) yielded unrealistic results, with global biomass burning fluxes similar to or even greater than in the pre-industrial climate. It is inferred that a substantial part of the increase in biomass burning after the LGM must be attributed to the effect of increasing CO2 concentration on primary production and fuel load. Today, by analogy, both rising CO2 and global warming must be considered as risk factors for increasing biomass burning. Both effects need to be included in models to project future fire risks.

Final-revised paper