Modelling the role of fires in the terrestrial carbon balance by incorporating SPITFIRE into the global vegetation model ORCHIDEE – Part 1: simulating historical global burned area and fire regimes
Fire is an important global ecological process that influences the distribution of biomes, with consequences for carbon, water, and energy budgets. Therefore it is impossible to appropriately model the history and future of the terrestrial ecosystems and the climate system without including fire. This study incorporates the process-based prognostic fire module SPITFIRE into the global vegetation model ORCHIDEE, which was then used to simulate burned area over the 20th century. Special attention was paid to the evaluation of other fire regime indicators such as seasonality, fire size and fire length, next to burned area. For 2001–2006, the simulated global spatial extent of fire agrees well with that given by satellite-derived burned area data sets (L3JRC, GLOBCARBON, GFED3.1), and 76–92% of the global burned area is simulated as collocated between the model and observation, depending on which data set is used for comparison. The simulated global mean annual burned area is 346 Mha yr −1, which falls within the range of 287–384 Mha yr −1 as given by the three observation data sets; and is close to the 344 Mha yr −1 by the GFED3.1 data when crop fires are excluded. The simulated long-term trend and variation of burned area agree best with the observation data in regions where fire is mainly driven by climate variation, such as boreal Russia (1930–2009), along with Canada and US Alaska (1950–2009). At the global scale, the simulated decadal fire variation over the 20th century is only in moderate agreement with the historical reconstruction, possibly because of the uncertainties of past estimates, and because land-use change fires and fire suppression are not explicitly included in the model. Over the globe, the size of large fires (the 95th quantile fire size) is underestimated by the model for the regions of high fire frequency, compared with fire patch data as reconstructed from MODIS 500 m burned area data. Two case studies of fire size distribution in Canada and US Alaska, and southern Africa indicate that both number and size of large fires are underestimated, which could be related with short fire patch length and low daily fire size. Future efforts should be directed towards building consistent spatial observation data sets for key parameters of the model in order to constrain the model error at each key step of the fire modelling.