Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere & Forest (LEAF) Centre

Fire in the Forest

SAMBBA Campaign - photograph by Jim McQuaid Vegetation fires can occur naturally, due to lightning strikes, but fire is often used deliberately in tropical regions to remove forests and make land suitable for agricultural use. Following deforestation, fires are used again to prevent trees from growing back, and for nutrient recycling.

When forests or grasslands burn, the fire releases gases (e.g., carbon monoxide) and particles (e.g., black carbon) into the atmosphere. The air above rainforests is generally very clean, so these fires contribute substantially to the composition of the atmosphere and can have a significant impact on regional climate and local air quality.

Different kinds of vegetation fire emit different gases and particles, in varying amounts, when they burn. Understanding these differences is important for determining the impact of these fires on the climate.

In 2012, researchers from the University of Leeds travelled to Brazil for the South AMerican Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA). Together with scientists from six other UK universities, the UK Met Office, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE; Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) and the University of São Paulo, they conducted an extensive field campaign including 130 hours of observation flights. Now, the researchers are using detailed models of the atmosphere to try and understand the processes occurring in the atmosphere during biomass burning season.