Fire ignition patterns affect production of charcoal in southern forests

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Carvalho, EO, Kobziar, LN & Putz, FE 2011, 'Fire ignition patterns affect production of charcoal in southern forests', International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 474-477.

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Although charcoal represents a relatively minor portion of available biomass burned in wildfires and prescribed burns, its recalcitrant properties confer residence times ranging from centuries to millennia, with significance for carbon sequestration in frequently burned forests. Here, we determined whether charcoal formation differed between the two most common prescribed fire spread patterns in southern forests: head (with the wind) and backing (against the wind). Pine wood samples were distributed randomly within a mesic flatwoods burn unit in north-central Florida, and subjected either to a head fire (n = 34) or a backing fire (n = 34). Backing fires formed more than twice as much charcoal as head fires (1.53 v. 0.38% of available biomass), presumably because of differences in residence times, oxygen availability and fire intensity between the two fire spread patterns. These results suggest that the contribution of charcoal to ecosystem carbon sequestration is greater when flatwoods forests are burned against the prevailing wind direction, and that further investigation of these trends is warranted.

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