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Global data shows inverse relationship, shift in human use of fire

Date:
May 23, 2016
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
Humans use fire for heating, cooking, managing lands and, more recently, fueling industrial processes. Now, research has found that these various means of using fire are inversely related to one another, providing new insight into how people are changing the face of fire.
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Humans use fire for heating, cooking, managing lands and, more recently, fueling industrial processes. Now, research from the University of Colorado has found that these various means of using fire are inversely related to one another, providing new insight into how people are changing the face of fire.

The results were published today in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and presented at a meeting of the Royal Society in London as part of a discussion on fire and humankind.

Over time, the majority of human fire use has shifted from indigenous burning to agricultural burning to fossil fuel burning. The findings show that locations on the planet with high fossil fuel emissions and biomass burning emissions are rare, suggesting an inverse relationship in which an increase in one causes a decline in the other.

"We call this the 'combustion ladder' -- where fire management shifts towards using more efficient and safer forms of combustion that may ultimately exclude open use of fire in the landscape," said Jennifer Balch, director of Earth Lab and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at CU-Boulder and lead study author.

The new study, which incorporates satellite data on fire with fossil fuel emissions data from a 14-year period between 1997 and 2010, marks one of the first times this shift has been tested with global data.

"One important next step is to distinguish between natural landscape fires, fires started accidentally by humans and fires deliberately started as part of land management," said Andrew Scott, a professor at the Royal Holloway University of London and a co-author of the study.

"Despite our push to contain combustion, there are still fires in places that can be very damaging," said Balch. "We've tried the experiment in the U.S. of trying to remove fire completely, and it doesn't work. We spend two to three billion dollars every year fighting fires. In the western U.S. in particular, we live in flammable places, and must learn to coexist with fire."


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Materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer K. Balch, R. Chelsea Nagy, Sally Archibald, David M. J. S. Bowman, Max A. Moritz, Christopher I. Roos, Andrew C. Scott, Grant J. Williamson. Global combustion: the connection between fossil fuel and biomass burning emissions (1997–2010). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 2016 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0177

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University of Colorado at Boulder. "Global data shows inverse relationship, shift in human use of fire." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160523141234.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2016, May 23). Global data shows inverse relationship, shift in human use of fire. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160523141234.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Global data shows inverse relationship, shift in human use of fire." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160523141234.htm (accessed May 8, 2017).