Development of decision products for spatial quantification of carbon emissions from wildfires for North America

A major goal of the North American Carbon Program is to resolve uncertainties in understanding and managing the carbon cycle of North America. As carbon modeling tools become more comprehensive, accurate datasets to spatially quantify carbon emissions from fire are needed. Dr. Nancy French, of the Michigan Technological University, Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) has teamed with specialists at the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Center’s Fire and Environmental Research Applications (FERA) lab to provide information for mapping fire-derived carbon emissions by adapting existing Forest Service fire information products and tools using NASA data and products. This work extends previous research of Dr. French’s sponsored by NASA's New Investigator program.

The Goal of the proposed project is: To develop improved products for modeling and estimating fire emissions across North America and implement a prototype information system for disseminating this information to users who manage carbon or model the carbon cycle.

Estimating fire emissions from ground-based data requires calculation from four parameters (Figure 1; French et al. 2004): area burned, fuel loading (biomass per unit area), fuel consumption (fraction of biomass consumed), and emission factors (mass of a given chemical species emitted per mass of fuel/biomass consumed). For complete information on project outcomes visit the Wildland Fire Emission Inforatmion System website (

fire factors

Figure 1: Factors used to estimate pyrogenic carbon emissions and related impacts of fire on carbon cycling

The information is provided at a 1 km spatial resolution and have relevance for understanding fire-affected carbon cycling at regional scales for the Continental US.

MTRI will develop an interactive, on-line geospatial information system that pulls together fire location data with corresponding fuel consumption and fuel loading data layers for fuel emission modeling. The geospatial data system will be built from open-source software components that work with open international standards developed by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) such as Web Mapping Service (WMS) and Web Feature Service (WFS) in order to facilitate future enhancements to the system.

The information system will provide access to data representing all four of the data layers needed for estimating fire emissions (see Figure 1). Information products will be provided as GIS-based and tabular products at a 1-km cell-size covering North America, including Alaska, Canada, the conterminous United States, and Mexico. The proposed project will provide the most up-to-date versions of the data layers in the Wildland Fire Emissions Information System (WFEIS). The fuel loading maps will be improved for the US and extended to all of North America based on the procedure employed to map the conterminous US by Co-I McKenzie (McKenzie et al 2007; Ottmar et al. 2007). Fuel consumption will be estimated by employing the CONSUME 3.0 fuel consumption model in the US and Mexico; emissions will be estimated with the Canadian Forest Service’s BORFIRE model for Canada (de Groot et al. 2007).

de Groot WJ, et al. (2007) Estimating direct carbon emissions from Canadian wildland fires. International Journal of Wildland Fire 16, 593-606.


French NHF, Goovaerts P, Kasischke ES (2004) Uncertainty in estimating carbon emissions from boreal forest fires. Journal of Geophysical Research 109, D14S08. doi:10.1029/2003JD003635.


McKenzie D, Raymond CL, Kellogg L-KB, Norheim RA, Andreu AG, Bayard AC, Kopper KE, Elman E (2007) Mapping fuels at multiple scales: landscape application of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 37, 2421-2437.


Ottmar, R.D.; Sandberg, D.V.; Riccardi, C.L.; Prichard, S. J. 2007. An overview of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) - quantifying, classifying, and creating fuelbeds for resource planning. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 37:1-11.


French, N. H. F., et al. (2014), Modeling regional-scale fire emissions with the Wildland Fire Emissions Information System, Earth Interactions, 18, 1-26, doi:10.1175/EI-D-14-0002.1.?

For Additional Information

Nancy French, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist

Read the Fall 2009 Canadian Smoke Newsletter featuring Dr. Nancy H.F. French, Quantifying wildfire emissions across North America with the Wildland Fire Emissions Information System.

russiaMODIS Image of Hot Spots and Smoke


Project Outcomes

View Factsheet

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Nancy H.F. French, PI, Michigan Tech Research Institute, Ann Arbor, MI
Donald McKenzie, Institutional PI, Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab, USDA Forest Service
Roger D. Ottmar, Co-I, Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab, USDA Forest Service
Eric S. Kasischke, Co-I, Department of Geography, University of Maryland, College Park
Ernesto C. Alvarado, Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab, USDA Forest Service
William de Groot, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service