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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evaluating greenhouse gas emissions inventories for agricultural burning using satellite observations of active fires

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Fires in agricultural ecosystems emit greenhouse gases and aerosols that influence climate on multiple spatial and temporal scales. Annex 1 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), many of which ratified the Kyoto Protocol, are required to report emissions of CH4 and N2O from these fires annually. In this study, we evaluated several aspects of this reporting system, including the optimality of the crops targeted by the UNFCCC globally and within Annex 1 countries, and the consistency of emissions inventories among different countries. We also evaluated the success of individual countries in capturing interannual variability and long-term trends in agricultural fire activity. In our approach, we combined global high-resolution maps of crop harvest area and production, derived from satellite maps and ground-based census data, with Terra and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) measurements of active fires. At a global scale, we found that adding ground nuts (e.g., peanuts), cocoa, cotton and oil palm, and removing potato, oats, rye, and pulse other from the list of 14 crops targeted by the UNFCCC increased the percentage of active fires covered by the reporting system by 9%. Optimization led to a different recommended list for Annex 1 countries, requiring the addition of sunflower, cotton, rapeseed, and alfalfa and the removal of beans, sugarcane, pulse others, and tuber-root others. Extending emissions reporting to all Annex 1 countries (from the current set of 19 countries) would increase the efficacy of the reporting system from 6% to 15%, and further including several non-Annex 1 countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Nigeria) would capture over 55% of active fires in croplands worldwide. Analyses of interannual trends from the United States and Australia showed the importance of both intensity of fire use and crop production in controlling year-to-year variations in agricultural fire emissions. Remote sensing provides an effective means for evaluating some aspects of the current UNFCCC emissions reporting system; and, if combined with census data, field experiments and expert opinion, has the potential to improve the robustness of the next generation inventory system.

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