Fire in the Environment:
The Ecological, Atmospheric, and Climatic Importance of Vegetation Fires

Dahlem Konferenz, Berlin, Germany, 1520 March 1992
Conveners: Paul J. Crutzen and Johann Georg Goldammer
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany

Background, justification and outline of the Dahlem Konferenz

The concentration of several trace gases in the earth’s atmosphere that are important for climate and atmospheric chemistry are strongly increasing due to various human activities. In this context much emphasis has been given to the input of trace gases from industrial and technological activities, leading to emissions of such gases as CO2, CO, NOx and SO2. Because studies of both fire ecology and biomass burning effects in the atmosphere are strongly interdisciplinary, the Dahlem Konferenz provided an opportunity to develop an objective and comprehensive view of the role of fire in the environment Earth. Among the possible outcomes of the proposed conference was the definition of some major research topics to be addressed by the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Programme (IGAC) and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

Conference Objectives

The conference aimed at exploring the role of fire in the vegetation of Earth and their impact on the environment – the first global analysis of the role of fire in the Earth System – by addressing in particular:

  • Assess current quantitative knowledge on the extent of worldwide biomass burning both in forest and savanna ecosystems, including estimations of trace gas emissions and resulting atmospheric chemical and climatic effects.
  • Establish the effects of fires in the major vegetation zones of the globe, with emphasis on primary production, ecosystem dynamics, as well as changing carbon and nutrient storage and fluxes.
  • Assess the role of fires in the multiple interactions between climate and ecosystem dynamics, especially in light of anticipated climatic changes and human expansions into tropical and subtropical ecosystems.
  • Explore the information content of paleorecords on fires regarding natural climatic biogeographic changes (glacial-interglacial) and human expansions in various regions of the earth.
  • Explore the social causes and methods for the use of fires during past and present in various parts of the earth and develop visions of ecologically adequate and socio-economically feasible fire management concepts.

The disciplines involved in the conference included fire ecology, paleoecology, climatology, palynology, sedimentology, soil science, microbiology, biogeochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, remote sensing, anthropology, cultural history, fire history, fire management.


Crutzen, P.J. and J.G. Goldammer (eds.) 1993. Fire in the environment: The ecological, atmospheric, and climatic importance of vegetation fires. Dahlem Workshop Reports. Environmental Sciences Research Report 13. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 400 p.

Book order through WorldCat.

Contents of the volume and conference recommendations (PDF, 1.8 MB)

Chapters authored and co-authored by GFMC


Conference Limericks

Artistic liberty was taken where legibility was lacking …. (PDF, 2.3 MB)

Press Release and Reporting

Obituary on Co-Convener Paul J. Crutzen

Co-convener of the Dahlem Conference, Paul J. Crutzen passed away on 28 January 2021. GFMC Director wrote the following obituary in the condolence book of the Max Planck Institute fir Chemistry:

After corresponding in the late 1980s on the role of vegetation fires as a factor shaping ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles and atmospheric chemistry, Paul and I met first in 1989. In May 1989, he contributed to the first international symposium on the role of fire in the tropics on the ecosystems and atmosphere, convened at Freiburg University, and the subsequently published monograph “Fire in the Tropical Biota”. The symposium was inspiring and brought me to join MPIC in late 1990 to lead the newly founded Fire Ecology and Biomass Burning Research Group at the Biogeochemistry Department chaired by Meinrat O. “Andi” Andreae. Pioneering transdisciplinary research campaigns, e.g. in the frame of Southern Tropical Atlantic Regional Experiment (STARE) with its Southern Africa Fire-Atmosphere Research Initiative (SAFARI-92) were possible through close cooperation and synergies between the Departments. In 1992, Paul and I convened the Dahlem Conference “Fire in the Environment: The Ecological, Climatic and Atmospheric Chemical Importance of Burning in Wildland and Rural Landscapes” – resulting in the publication of “Fire in the Environment” – the first comprehensive analysis of the role of vegetation fires in the Earth System. The atmosphere of cooperation between the Atmospheric Chemistry Department and the Biogeochemistry Department fostered cooperation across the disciplines and paved the way to a better understanding of the role of fire on Earth and serving the science-policy interface. I liked the humor of Paul. Once I asked him, why he had displayed some spray cans in his bookshelf, containing hair setting lotion and CFC propeller – wouldn’t this be in contradiction to his endeavor banning the use of CFCs? He replied – no, this is for archival reasons because soon CFSs will disappear completely and we would run out of samples for research. Well done, Paul!

In 1995, Paul J. Crutzen was awarded the Chemistry Nobel Prize. GFMC is taking the liberty to publish the Nobel Lecture of P.J. Crutzen, which he gave on 8 December 1995:

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