Greenhouse gas emissions from vegetation fires in Southern Africa
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Methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic carbon, and aerosols emitted as a result of the deliberate or accidental burning of natural vegetation constitute a large component of the greenhouse gas emissions of many African countries, but the data needed for calculating these emissions by the IPCC methodology is sparse and subject to estimation errors. An improved procedure for estimating emissions from fires in southern Africa has been developed. The proposed procedure involves reclassifying existing vegetation maps into one of eleven broad, functional vegetation classes. Fuel loads are calculated within each 0.5 × 0.5° cell based on empirical relationships to climate data for each class. The fractional area of each class that burns is estimated by using daily low-resolution satellite fire detection, which is calibrated against a subsample of pre- and post-fire high-resolution satellite images. The emission factors that relate the quantity of gas released to the mass of fuel burned are based on recent field campaigns in Africa and are related to combustion efficiency, which is in turn related to the fuel mix. The emissions are summed over the 1989 fire season for Africa south of the equator. The estimated emissions from vegetation burning in the subcontinent are 0.5 Tg CH4, 14.9 Tg CO, 1.05 Tg NOx, and 1.08 Tg of particles smaller than 2.5µm. The 324 Tg CO2 emitted is expected to be reabsorbed in subsequent years. These estimates are smaller than previous estimates.
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