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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fire-induced albedo change and surface radiative forcing in sub-Saharan Africa savanna ecosystems: Implications for the energy balance

  • Author(s): Dintwe, K
  • Okin, GS
  • Xue, Y
  • et al.

© 2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Surface albedo is a critical parameter that controls surface energy balance. In dryland ecosystems, fires play a significant role in decreasing surface albedo, resulting in positive radiative forcing. Here we investigate the long-term effect of fire on surface albedo. We devised a method to calculate short-, medium-, and long-term effect of fire-induced radiative forcing and their relative effects on energy balance. We used Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data in our analysis, covering different vegetation classes in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Our analysis indicated that mean short-term fire-induced albedo change in SSA was 0.022, 0.035, and 0.041 for savannas, shrubland, and grasslands, respectively. At regional scale, mean fire-induced albedo change in savannas was 0.018 and 0.024 for northern sub-Saharan of Africa and the southern hemisphere Africa, respectively. The short-term mean fire-induced radiative forcing in burned areas in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was 5.41W m-2, which contributed continental and global radiative forcings of 0.25 and 0.058 W m-2, respectively. The impact of fire in surface albedo has long-lasting effects that varies with vegetation type. The long-term energetic effects of fire-induced albedo change and associated radiative forcing were, on average, more than 19 times greater across SSA than the short-term effects, suggesting that fires exerted far more radiative forcing than previously thought. Taking into account the actual duration of fire’s effect on surface albedo, we conclude that the contribution of SSA fires, globally and throughout the year, is ~0.12 W m-2. These findings provide crucial information on possible impact of fire on regional climate variability.

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