Fire impacts on surface heat, moisture and carbon fluxes from a tropical savanna in northern Australia

Jason Beringer, Lindsay Hutley, Nigel Tapper, A Coutts, A Kerley, A O'Grady

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    Savannas form a large fraction of the total tropical vegetation and are extremely fire prone. We measured radiative, energy and carbon exchanges over unburned and burned (both before and after low and moderate intensity fires) open forest savanna at Howard Springs, Darwin, Australia. Fire affected the radiative balance immediately following fire through the consumption of the grass-dominated understorey and blackening of the surface. Albedo was halved following fire of both intensities (from 0.12 to 0.07 and from 0.11 to 0.06 for the moderate and low intensity sites, respectively), but the recovery of albedo was dependent on the initial fire intensity. The low intensity fire caused little canopy damage with little impact on the surface energy balance and only a slight increase in Bowen ratio. However the moderate fire resulted in a comprehensive canopy scorch and almost complete leaf drop in the weeks following fire. The shutdown of most leaves within the canopy reduced transpiration and altered energy partitioning. Leaf death and shedding also resulted in a cessation of ecosystem carbon uptake and the savanna turned from a sink to a source of carbon to the atmosphere because of the continued ecosystem respiration. Post-fire, the Bowen ratio increased greatly due to large increases in sensible heat fluxes. These changes in surface energy exchange following fire, when applied at the landscape scale, may have impacts on climate through local changes in circulation patterns and changes in regional heating, precipitation and monsoon circulation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)333-340
    Number of pages8
    JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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