Daily carbon fluxes resulting from (a) reduced C uptake in unburned areas and (b) C released by wildfire over southeast Australia. Positive values are net release, negative values are net uptake of C. Hatching shows the burned area. Timeseries of (c) ecosystem C balance and (b) wildfire (d) for (light grey) non-forest, (green) unburned forest and (red) burned forest areas. Credit: Byrne et al., 2021, Figure 4
Editors’ Highlights are summaries of recent papers by AGU’s journal editors.
Source: AGU Advances

The extreme drought conditions in southeast Australia in 2019-2020 made headlines around the world as particularly intense fires degraded regional air quality, burned large areas of forest and killed wildlife. Byrne et al. [2021] applied a unique combination of space-based observations and modeling approaches to estimate that wildfires directly emitted 113-236 Teragrams (Tg) of carbon, exceeding Australia’s annual fossil fuel emissions of ~104 TgC.  Moreover, they demonstrated important effects of extreme drought on carbon fluxes in unburned areas. Reduced ecosystem productivity left an additional 19-52 TgC that would normally be taken up in the atmosphere.  While productivity recovered rapidly in unburned ecosystems, carbon lost through wildfire will take years to reaccumulate.  This study provides an important case study for using new remote sensing observations to evaluate influence of weather extremes on regional carbon balance. 

Citation: Byrne, B., Liu, J., Lee, M., Yin, Y., Bowman, K., Miyazaki, K., et al. [2021]. The carbon cycle of southeast Australia during 2019-2020: Drought, fires and subsequent recovery. AGU Advances, 2, e2021AV000469. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021AV000469

—Susan Trumbore, Editor, AGU Advances