Fire is a major agent for conversion of biomass and soil organic matter to carbon dioxide. Globally, wild fires produce 1.7 to 4.1 gigatons (Gt) of carbon per year, approximately 3 to 8% of total terrestrial total carbon load. There is an additional large enhancement of carbon dioxide emissions associated with fires stimulated by human activities, such as deforestation and tropical agricultural development. A striking example occurred during the 1997 to 1998 El Niņo, when large fires in the Southeast Asian archipelago released 0.8 to 2.6 Gt. (reference)
Fire frequency and intensity are strongly sensitive to climate change and to land use practices. Over the last century, trends in burned area have been largely driven by land use practices, through fire suppression policies in mid-latitude temperate regions and increased use of fire to clear forest in tropical regions. However, there is also evidence that climate change has contributed to an increase in fire frequency in Canada.
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