Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
29 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 29 Jan 2015

Global analysis of radiative forcing from fire-induced shortwave albedo change

G. López-Saldaña, I. Bistinas, and J. M. C. Pereira

Abstract. Land surface albedo, a key parameter to derive Earth's surface energy balance, is used in the parameterization of numerical weather prediction, climate monitoring and climate change impact assessments. Changes in albedo due to fire have not been fully investigated on a continental and global scale. The main goal of this study, therefore, is to quantify the changes in instantaneous shortwave albedo produced by biomass burning activities and their associated radiative forcing.

The study relies on the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) MCD64A1 burned-area product to create an annual composite of areas affected by fire and the MCD43C2 bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) albedo snow-free product to compute a bihemispherical reflectance time series. The approximate day of burning is used to calculate the instantaneous change in shortwave albedo. Using the corresponding National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) monthly mean downward solar radiation flux at the surface, the global radiative forcing associated with fire was computed.

The analysis reveals a mean decrease in shortwave albedo of −0.014 (1σ = 0.017), causing a mean positive radiative forcing of 3.99 Wm−2 (1σ = 4.89) over the 2002–20012 time period in areas affected by fire. The greatest drop in mean shortwave albedo change occurs in 2002, which corresponds to the highest total area burned (378 Mha) observed in the same year and produces the highest mean radiative forcing (4.5 Wm−2).

Africa is the main contributor in terms of burned area, but forests globally give the highest radiative forcing per unit area and thus give detectable changes in shortwave albedo. The global mean radiative forcing for the whole period studied (~0.0275 Wm−2) shows that the contribution of fires to the Earth system is not insignificant.

Short summary
Land surface albedo is a key parameter to derive Earth’s surface energy balance. Any changes in the albedo have repercussions in the amount of energy that is retained by the Earth. Fire modifies albedo because it removes vegetation from the land surface; therefore, investigating these changes on a global scale can help to understand the role of fire within the Earth system.
Final-revised paper