Kalahari Wildfires Drive Continental Post-Fire Brightening in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Author(s): Saha, Michael V
- D'Odorico, Paolo
- Scanlon, Todd M
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/11/9/1090
Fire can induce long-lived changes to land-surface albedo, an important aspect of the Earth’s energy budget, but the temporal evolution of these anomalies is poorly understood. Due to the widespread presence of fire in Africa, this represents uncertainty in the continental energy budget, which has important implications for regional climate and hydrologic cycling. In this study, we present the first object-based accounting of albedo anomalies induced by larger (>1 km2) individual wildfires in sub-Saharan Africa. We group spatially contiguous wildfire pixels into fire objects and track the albedo anomaly for five years after the burn. We find that albedo anomalies all have the same general temporal signature: An immediate, brief period of darkening followed by persistent brightening. The strongest brightening is found in the Kalahari region while more intense and long-lived initial darkening is found in the Sahel region. The average southern hemisphere albedo anomaly is +1.50 × 10−3 in the year following wildfire, representing a statistically significant negative surface energy balance forcing on a continental scale. This study challenges an existing paradigm surrounding the physical effects of fire on the landscape. Our results suggest that models of albedo that assume a darkening and recovery to baseline are overly simplistic in almost all circumstances. Furthermore, the presumption that immediate darkening is the only meaningful effect on albedo is incorrect for the majority of the African continent.