Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 9, 697–720, 2017
Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 9, 697–720, 2017

  12 Sep 2017

12 Sep 2017

Global fire emissions estimates during 1997–2016

Guido R. van der Werf1, James T. Randerson2, Louis Giglio3, Thijs T. van Leeuwen4,a, Yang Chen2, Brendan M. Rogers5, Mingquan Mu2, Margreet J. E. van Marle1,b, Douglas C. Morton6, G. James Collatz6, Robert J. Yokelson7, and Prasad S. Kasibhatla8 Guido R. van der Werf et al.
  • 1Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 2Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA
  • 3Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, MD 20742, USA
  • 4SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, 3584 CA Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 5Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA 02540, USA
  • 6Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
  • 7Department of Chemistry, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
  • 8Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
  • anow at: VanderSat BV, 2011 VK, Haarlem, the Netherlands
  • bnow at: Deltares, 2629 HV, Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. Climate, land use, and other anthropogenic and natural drivers have the potential to influence fire dynamics in many regions. To develop a mechanistic understanding of the changing role of these drivers and their impact on atmospheric composition, long-term fire records are needed that fuse information from different satellite and in situ data streams. Here we describe the fourth version of the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) and quantify global fire emissions patterns during 1997–2016. The modeling system, based on the Carnegie–Ames–Stanford Approach (CASA) biogeochemical model, has several modifications from the previous version and uses higher quality input datasets. Significant upgrades include (1) new burned area estimates with contributions from small fires, (2) a revised fuel consumption parameterization optimized using field observations, (3) modifications that improve the representation of fuel consumption in frequently burning landscapes, and (4) fire severity estimates that better represent continental differences in burning processes across boreal regions of North America and Eurasia. The new version has a higher spatial resolution (0.25°) and uses a different set of emission factors that separately resolves trace gas and aerosol emissions from temperate and boreal forest ecosystems. Global mean carbon emissions using the burned area dataset with small fires (GFED4s) were 2.2  ×  1015 grams of carbon per year (Pg C yr−1) during 1997–2016, with a maximum in 1997 (3.0 Pg C yr−1) and minimum in 2013 (1.8 Pg C yr−1). These estimates were 11 % higher than our previous estimates (GFED3) during 1997–2011, when the two datasets overlapped. This net increase was the result of a substantial increase in burned area (37 %), mostly due to the inclusion of small fires, and a modest decrease in mean fuel consumption (−19 %) to better match estimates from field studies, primarily in savannas and grasslands. For trace gas and aerosol emissions, differences between GFED4s and GFED3 were often larger due to the use of revised emission factors. If small fire burned area was excluded (GFED4 without the s for small fires), average emissions were 1.5 Pg C yr−1. The addition of small fires had the largest impact on emissions in temperate North America, Central America, Europe, and temperate Asia. This small fire layer carries substantial uncertainties; improving these estimates will require use of new burned area products derived from high-resolution satellite imagery. Our revised dataset provides an internally consistent set of burned area and emissions that may contribute to a better understanding of multi-decadal changes in fire dynamics and their impact on the Earth system. GFED data are available from

Short summary
Fires occur in many vegetation types and are sometimes natural but often ignited by humans for various purposes. We have estimated how much area they burn globally and what their emissions are. Total burned area is roughly equivalent to the size of the EU with most fires burning in tropical savannas. Their emissions vary substantially from year to year and contribute to the atmospheric burdens of many trace gases and aerosols. The 20-year dataset is mostly suited for large-scale assessments.