International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Improving estimates of savanna burning emissions for greenhouse accounting in northern Australia: limitations, challenges, applications

Jeremy Russell-Smith A B I , Brett P. Murphy A B , C. P. (Mick) Meyer C G , Garry D. Cook A D , Stefan Maier E F , Andrew C. Edwards A B F G , Jon Schatz A D and Peter Brocklehurst A H

A Tropical Savannas Management Cooperative Research Centre, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

B Bushfires NT (Northern Territory Government), Winnellie, NT 0821, Australia.

C CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, VIC 3195, Australia.

D CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Winnellie, NT 0821, Australia.

E Satellite Remote Sensing Services, Western Australian Land Information Authority (Western Australia Government), Floreat, WA 6014, Australia.

F Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

G Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne, VIC 3002, Australia.

H Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts (Northern Territory Government), Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.

I Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 18(1) 1-18
Submitted: 18 January 2008  Accepted: 14 August 2008   Published: 17 February 2009


Although biomass burning of savannas is recognised as a major global source of greenhouse gas emissions, quantification remains problematic with resulting regional emissions estimates often differing markedly. Here we undertake a critical assessment of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI) savanna burning emissions methodology. We describe the methodology developed for, and results and associated uncertainties derived from, a landscape-scale emissions abatement project in fire-prone western Arnhem Land, northern Australia. The methodology incorporates (i) detailed fire history and vegetation structure and fuels type mapping derived from satellite imagery; (ii) field-based assessments of fuel load accumulation, burning efficiencies (patchiness, combustion efficiency, ash retention) and N : C composition; and (iii) application of standard, regionally derived emission factors. Importantly, this refined methodology differs from the NGGI by incorporation of fire seasonality and severity components, and substantial improvements in baseline data. We consider how the application of a fire management program aimed at shifting the seasonality of burning (from one currently dominated by extensive late dry season wildfires to one where strategic fire management is undertaken earlier in the year) can provide significant project-based emissions abatement. The approach has wider application to fire-prone savanna systems dominated by anthropogenic sources of ignition.

Additional keywords: Arnhem Land, burning efficiency, emission factors, fire mapping, fuel loads, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Northern Territory.


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