Emissions from prescribed fires in temperate forest in south-east Australia: implications for carbon accounting
- 1Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
- 2Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, 340 Albert Street, East Melbourne, VIC 3002, Australia
Abstract. We estimated emissions of carbon, as equivalent CO2 (CO2e), from planned fires in four sites in a south-eastern Australian forest. Emission estimates were calculated using measurements of fuel load and carbon content of different fuel types, before and after burning, and determination of fuel-specific emission factors. Median estimates of emissions for the four sites ranged from 20 to 139 Mg CO2e ha−1. Variability in estimates was a consequence of different burning efficiencies of each fuel type from the four sites. Higher emissions resulted from more fine fuel (twigs, decomposing matter, near-surface live and leaf litter) or coarse woody debris (CWD; > 25 mm diameter) being consumed. In order to assess the effect of declining information quantity and the inclusion of coarse woody debris when estimating emissions, Monte Carlo simulations were used to create seven scenarios where input parameters values were replaced by probability density functions. Calculation methods were (1) all measured data were constrained between measured maximum and minimum values for each variable; (2) as in (1) except the proportion of carbon within a fuel type was constrained between 0 and 1; (3) as in (2) but losses of mass caused by fire were replaced with burning efficiency factors constrained between 0 and 1; and (4) emissions were calculated using default values in the Australian National Greenhouse Accounts (NGA), National Inventory Report 2011, as appropriate for our sites. Effects of including CWD in calculations were assessed for calculation Method 1, 2 and 3 but not for Method 4 as the NGA does not consider this fuel type. Simulations demonstrate that the probability of estimating true median emissions declines strongly as the amount of information available declines. Including CWD in scenarios increased uncertainty in calculations because CWD is the most variable contributor to fuel load. Inclusion of CWD in scenarios generally increased the amount of carbon lost. We discuss implications of these simulations and how emissions from prescribed burns in temperate Australian forests could be improved.