NATO’sSupport in Fire Research

Global Change, the Global Boreal Forest, and Fire: Search for New Strategies in Science Policies and Research Mechanisms


 Johann Georg Goldammer
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
Biogeochemistry Department
Fire Ecology Research Group
c/o Freiburg University
D-79085 Freiburg


 Valentin V. Furyaev
Sukachev Institute for Forest andWood
Russian Academy of Sciences,Siberian Branch
RU-Krasnoyarsk 660036
Russian Federation 


One of the first priority areas among jointEast/West research programmes is the rational use of natural resources andsustainable development of regions. The global boreal forest is one of the mostproductive but also highly vulnerable ecosystems. Because of its size andecological functions the boreal forest and its most dynamic disturbance factorfire play an important role in ecosystem processes at a global scale. Newresearch initiatives between Western and Eastern countries are designed toaddress a series of phenomena and problems. Cooperative research agreementsunder the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), in conjunctionwith the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA), have beenused as research instruments to initiate a joint research campaign. The FireResearch Campaign Asia-North (FIRESCAN) was implemented under these agreements.This contribution highlights the history of this research and givesrecommendations for future use of the successfully applied research mechanisms.

1. Introduction

The circumpolar boreal forest biome occupiesnearly one third of the total global forest area. More than seventy percent ofthe global boreal forest is in Eurasia, mainly in the Russian Federation; theremainder covers large parts of Canada and Alaska. The ecological importance andinfluences of the boreal forest on the zonal and global atmosphere and climateis less understood than its economic importance. However, the magnitude of theboreal forest area suggests that it plays an important role in ecosystemprocesses on a global scale. Large-scale disturbance and destruction of theboreal forest due to human activities may contribute to regional and globalclimate change. Vice-versa, global climate change, induced by the cumulativeeffects of human activities and natural environmental changes, may haveconsiderable influence on the future of the circumpolar boreal forest.
This contribution intends to highlight the role of natural and human-causedfires in relationship to ecology, resource protection needs, economy and globalecological processes. Since the global boreal forest area is mainly located interritories belonging to the Russian Federation, northern European countries,and North America, the research objectives need to be addressed jointly throughEast-West collaboration. Furthermore, the complexity of envisaged researchrequires science policy instruments which are open to interdisciplinaryapproaches, flexible responses, and sustainable programmes.
Experience collected through international research programmes during the pastyears reveals that these requirements can be met with objective- ortask-oriented, rather short-term living projects, limited to a couple of years.However, in the case of East-West projects one needs to take into account thedifferent evolution of science and science instruments during the historicalyears of separation and isolation. The prerequisites for cooperation between thefuture partners are completely different. Most striking are the consequences ofrestructuring the national economies in the Eastern European countries and theCIS. Thus, the collaborative research and partnerships must be developedaccordingly.

2. The Boreal Forest: Extent and EconomicImportance

The world’s total boreal forests and other woodedland within the boreal zone cover 1.2x109ha of which 920×106 ha are closedforest. The latter number corresponds to ca. 29% of the world’s total forestarea and to 73% of its coniferous forest area (ECE/FAO, 1985). About 800x106ha of boreal forests with a total growing stock (over bark) of ca. 95 billion m3are exploitable (41% and 45% respectively of the world total). The export valueof forest products from boreal forests is ca. 47% of the world total (Kuusela,1990, 1992).
The vast majority of the boreal forest lands (taiga) of Eurasia are included inthe Russian Forest Fund, covering ca. 900x106ha. Depending on the criteria used to define “boreal forest”, the areaof closed boreal forest in the Russian Federation varies from 400 to 600x106ha (Pisarenko and Strakhov, 1993). These numbers correspond to a 43-65% share ofthe world’s closed boreal forest.
Natural fire (lightning fire) is an important ecological factor in the borealforest system. Under given climate and site conditions, fire is the mostimportant abiotic factor controlling age structure, species composition andphysiognomy, shaping landscape diversity and mosaic, and influencing energyflows and biogeochemical cycles, particularly the global carbon cycle (cf.monographs and synopses e.g. by Sofronov, 1967; Slaughter et al., 1971;Zackrisson, 1977; Sherbakov, 1979; Viereck and Schandelmeier, 1980; Alexanderand Euler, 1981; Heinselman, 1981; Wein and MacLean, 1983; Kurbatsky, 1985;Johnson, 1992; Sannikov, 1992; Furyaev, 1994; Goldammer and Furyaev, 1994). InEurasia fire has long been an important tool for land clearing (conversion ofboreal forest), silviculture (site preparation and improvement, speciesselection) and in maintaining agricultural systems, e.g. hunting societies,swidden agriculture, and pastoralism (Viro, 1969; Pyne, 1994). In addition tothe natural fires, these old cultural practices brought a tremendous amount offire into the boreal landscapes of Eurasia. In the early 20th century, fire-useintensity in the agricultural sector began to decrease because most of thedeforestation had been accomplished, and traditional small-sized fire systems(treatment of vegetation by free burning) became replaced by mechanized systems(use of fossil-fuel burning for mechanical treatment). Despite the loss oftraditional burning practices, however, humans are still the major source ofwildland fires; only 15% of the recorded fires in the Russian Federation arecaused by lightning (Korovin, 1994; Fig.1).
The elimination of wildfires in Western Eurasia (Norway, Sweden, Finland) duringrecent years (Stocks, 1991; Kuusela, 1992) leaves Eurasia’s major fire load onthe territory of the Russian Federation and other countries of the Commonwealthof Independant States (Tab.1). Statistics compiled by the Russian Aerial FireProtection Service Avialesookhrana show that between 10,000 and more than30,000 forest fires occur each year, affecting up to 2-3×106 ha of forest andother land (Fig.2). Since fires are monitored (and controlled) only on protectedforest and pasture lands, it is estimated that the real fire load in the wholeof Eurasia’s boreal vegetation is much higher, probably reaching up to 10×106 ha in extreme fireyears.

Table 1. Selected basic data onglobal and Eurasian boreal forest fires.

                                                Boreal Forest/Wildland Fires


  Boreal North America (Annual Average)


            Extreme Years, e.g. Canada 1989



  Boreal Western Europe (Annual Average)


            Extreme Years, e.g. Sweden 1933



  Boreal China (Annual Average)


            Extreme years, e.g. NE China 1987



  Boreal Eurasia, Recorded Fires          

            (Annual Average)


            Extreme Years, e.g. 1987


  Boreal Eurasia, Unrecorded Fires 

            (on Non-Protected Lands)


  1-5 x 106 ha


  7.4 x 106 ha



  < 4,000 ha


  30,000 ha



  < 55,000 ha


  1.3 x 106 ha



  2-3 x 106 ha





  10 x 106 ha?

Figure1. Monthly distribution of causes ofwildfires on protected lands in the USSR and the Russian Federation between 1947and 1992. Source: Avialesookhrana (Korovin,1994). (to be added later)

Figure 2.Area of protected lands affected by wildfires in the USSR and the RussianFederation between 1947 and 1992. Source: Avialesookhrana(Korovin, 1994). (to be added later)

3. Global Change, the Boreal Forest, and Fire

Expected global warming over the next 30-50years, as predicted by Global Circulation Models (GCM’s), will be most evidentin the northern circumpolar regions (Bolin et al., 1986; Maxwell, 1992; Shugartand Smith, 1992; Shugart et al., 1992). As Wein and de Groot (1993), Stocks(1993) and Stocks et al. (1994) underscore, fire may be the most important(widespread) driving force in changing the taiga under climatic warmingconditions. The prediction of increasing occurrence of extreme droughts in a 2xCO2climate indicates that fire regimes will undergo considerable changes. Anincrease in the length of the fire season will lead to a higher occurrence oflarge, high-intensity wildfires. Such fire scenarios may be restricted to atransition period until a new climate-vegetation-fire equilibrium has beenestablished.
Regional warming will also lead to the shift of vegetation zones, e.g. causingthe boreal forest to shift north ca. 500-1000 km (Kauppi and Posch, 1988). Theshift of ecosystems will have a considerable impact on the distribution ofphytomass. Estimates of carbon stored in living and dead plant biomass (withoutsoil organic matter) above- and belowground in the global boreal forest arearange between 66 and 98 Gt (66-98x1015g) (US Department of Energy, 1983; Apps et al., 1993). Additional large amountsof carbon are stored in the boreal forest soils (ca. 200x1015g) and in the boreal peatlands (ca. 420x1015g) (Apps et al., 1993; Tab.2). It is feared that changes in fire regimes due toclimate change will affect the balance of the boreal carbon pool and lead to theadditional release of carbon into the atmosphere, thus acting as temporaryfeedback loop to global warming.
Changing forestry practices in boreal Eurasia, stimulated by increasing nationaland international demands for boreal forest products, have resulted in thewidespread use of heavy machinery, large-scale clearcuts, and thereby in thealteration of the fuel complexes. The opening of formerly closed remote forestsby roads and the subsequent human interferences bring new ignition risks.Additional fire hazards and environmental consequences which are still mainlyunpredictable are created on forest lands heavily damaged by industrialemissions (severe damages in the Russian Federation are on ca. 9×106 ha). Radioactivecontamination on an area of ca. 7×106 ha createsconsiderable problems in redistribution of radionuclides through forest fires(Dusha-Gudym, 1992, 1994; Fig.3). These direct effects on the ecosystem areadded to the indirect effects of climate change, and both will certainly lead toan unprecedented era of fire.

4. East-West Research inTransition: Integration of Research Structures and Mechanisms

As in many other disciplines of science, thehistorical development of boreal environmental research, and specifically forestfire research, clearly suffered from being separated for at least four to fivedecades by political boundaries between East and West. Except for some courtesycontacts between fire managers and scientists during the Cold War and someoccasional joint participation at international meetings, no exchange orcooperation in fire science took place until the very recent of politicalisolation. Under the given and predicted developments of the global borealforest, it is evident that new initiatives in cooperative fire research areneeded. The differences in research structures and economic situations in theEast and the West, however, will require specific approaches to perform jointresearch programmes.
The research facilities of the former USSR, capable of supporting regional fireresearch programmes, are mainly part of the Academy of Sciences. The majorresearch centers are now located in the Russian Federation. These rather largeresearch complexes are suffering heavily under Russia’s current economicproblems. At present, the total funding made available to the Academy ofSciences is so insufficient that adequate salaries cannot be paid. In mostplaces there is no funding available for operating costs, investment ormaintenance of research hardware and infrastructures.
At the same time, many institutes belonging to the Academy are over-staffed.Taking into account that in many places virtually no funding for operatingresearch is left, the science community is restricted to theoretical work.
In the Western countries the present economic depression, coupled with highunemployment rates, has severe repercussions on research. Increasing costs foradvanced research hardware coincide with decreasing research budgets. However,at the same time the field of funding mechanisms is becoming more diverse. Newinstruments are created by intergovernmental research agreements such as theInternational Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International BorealForest Research Association (IBFRA), or private research foundations. They opennumerous ways to obtain funding for short-term projects, thus creating enormousopportunities. In the context of environmental sciences, particularly in forest-and global-change related research, funding instruments of interest are, amongother, the International Science Foundation (Washington, USA), the EuropeanForestry Institute (Joensuu, Finland), or even the recently foundedInternational Center for Science and Technology (Moscow, Russian Federation).
The prerequisites for using these research instruments are the availability ofpermanently operating research nodes, e.g. the Russian Academy of Sciences inthe East and universities or government-funded laboratories in the West. Onlythese are able to manage short-term objective- or task-oriented researchprogrammes.
The first phase of East-West programmes in forest and fire research is nowunderway. Its outline, objectives and implications for further activities aredescribed in the following.

5. Initiation of CooperativeEast-West Forest Fire Research in Boreal Eurasia
In 1990-91 first initiatives were launched towards cooperative fire research. Atthe invitation of the Aerial Forest Fire Protection Service Avialesookhrana andthe Academy of Sciences of the USSR, S.J. Pyne (Arizona State University,Phoenix, U.S.A.) and J.G. Goldammer (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry,Germany) explored the most important fire research and management facilities andprograms of the Soviet Union (Pyne, 1991, 1992). One of the outcomes was thedecision to jointly prepare and conduct a conference and a field campaign, bothdevoted to the exploration of fire in ecosystems of boreal Eurasia.
The objective of the conference, which was held in Krasnoyarsk, 29 June to 3July 1993, was to compile, interpret, and discuss the state of knowledge on therole and impacts of fire in boreal ecosystems, with special emphasis on Eurasia.The publication of the re-examined knowledge aims to stimulate a new era ofpan-boreal fire research, especially considering the need to put basic andspecific local aspects of fire ecology into the broader context of the newlyemerging global fire science (Crutzen and Goldammer, 1993; Goldammer, 1994). Themonograph “Fire in Ecosystems of Boreal Eurasia” is in preparation atthis stage (Goldammer and Furyaev, 1994).
The re-examination of the state of knowledge in boreal fire science was followedby the first joint fire experiment. The Fire Research Campaign Asia-North(FIRESCAN) was prepared and implemented in its first phase under theco-sponsorship of an IGBP sub-programme and IBFRA. The research campaign waslargely financed through support from the Volkswagen Foundation.
The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) provides a base forinterdisciplinary research programs. One of the operational IGBP core projectsis the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project (IGAC). One of theactivities of its foci (Focus 2: Natural Variability and AnthropgenicPerturbations of the Tropical Atmospheric Chemistry) is oriented towardsinvestigating the impact of biomass burning on the atmosphere and biosphere(“Biomass Burning Experiment” [BIBEX])(IGAC, 1992).
The boreal fire research programme is a joint activity with the InternationalBoreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA). Following the recommendations of the”White Sea Declaration” of 1990, IBFRA was founded in 1991 inMezhgorje, Ukraine (Fosberg, 1992). The two priority research areas are (1)Inventory, Monitoring, and Classification of Boreal Forests and (2) GlobalClimate Change and Ecosystem Function of Boreal Forests (Fig.4). Under thesecond area the first IBFRA Working Group established was on Stand ReplacementFire. In the context of the eight Working Hypotheses developed by the group in1992, the fire experiment scheduled for 1993 was considered an IBFRA activity.

Fig.4. Organizational diagram ofthe International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA).(to be added later)

                  List of Acronyms of Fire Research Activities shown in Figure 6

BIBEX             Biomass Burning Experiment (® IGAC)

EXPRESSO     Experiment for Regional Sources and Sinks of Oxidants

FIRE                Fire in Global Resource and Environmental Monitoring (CEC-JRC)

FIRESCAN     Fire Research Campaign Asia – North (® IGAC)

FOS/DECAFE Fire of Savannas/Dynamique et Chimie Atmosphérique en Forêt Équatoriale

GEIA               Global Emissions Inventory Activity (® IGAC)

IBFRA             International Boreal Forest Research Association

ICSU               International Council of Scientific Unions

IGAC               International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project (® IGBP)

IGBP               International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (® ICSU)

SAFARI          Southern African Fire-Atmosphere Research Initiative (® IGAC)

SEAFIRE         South East Asian Fire Experiment (® IGAC)

STARE            Southern Tropical Atlantic Regional Experiment (® IGAC)

SRFWG           Stand Replacement Fire Working Group (® IBFRA)

TRACE-A       Transport and Atmospheric Chemistry Near the Equator – Atlantic

VFIS                Vegetation Fire Information System (® Dahlem Konferenz Model)


The various regional fire research campaignsorganized under the umbrella of IGBP/IGAC/BIBEX are operational or in theplanning stage (Fig.5 and 6). The campaigns are designed to establish acomprehensive analysis of environmental impacts of fire on a global scale. TheEast European/North Asian part of this global research approach, as representedby the regional FIRESCAN programme, is a contribution in which East-Westcollaboration is mandatory.
The first FIRESCAN activity mentioned above was a large experimental forest firein Central Siberia (Fig.7). In this fire experiment the ecological andatmospheric chemical impacts of a high-intensity fire were investigated by amixed group of scientists from all boreal countries (FIRESCAN Science Team,1994a). This research had value beyond the symbolic sharing of East-Westexpertise in fire research. The results have already brought new insights intothe details of fire history, ecology, and behaviour. Some of the emissioncharacteristics observed were new to fire research, e.g. the emission of highamounts of radiatively active trace gases and compounds affecting thestratospheric ozone layer (cf. also Manö and Andreae, 1994).
In addition, a long-term follow-up research area has now been established, thefirst one in the whole of Eurasia’s taiga forests. This site will serve as aresearch focus for the next decades and centuries. For details cf. datapublished in various journals and the monograph in prep (FIRESCAN Science Team,1994a,b,c; Goldammer and Furyaev, 1994).
In November 1993 the “Taiga Aerospace Investigations using GIS Applications(TAIGA) Workshop” was held in Moscow (Stocks 1994). The workshop, sponsoredby NASA’s Office of Mission to Planet Earth and the International ForestryInstitute (IFI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was aimed to develop amulti-national science plan for studying the boreal forests of Russia. Theimpetus for this workshop was the decision to place new satellite receivingstations in Siberia, a region of the world where previous satellite coverage wasless than adequate, and to use this increased capability to intensively studythe vast boreal forests of Russia to determine their role in globalbiogeochemical cycles. The first NASA HRPT (High Resolution PictureTransmission) station will be installed in Krasnoyarsk in 1994. Cooperativeprojects developed at the workshop will make use of both AVHRR (Advanced VeryHigh Resolution Radiometer) data from NOAA polar-orbiting satellites andexisting ground and aircraft based datasets.

Three subgroups (Forest Fire, Productivity andCarbon Budget, and Mathematical Modelling) were created at the workshop for thepurpose of focussing discussion. The Forest Fire Subgroup proposed the followingstudies, all of which require the extensive use of satellite imagery and Russianforest inventory and other ground truth data:

·       Detection and mapping of active fires using AVHRRimagery.

·       Monitoring the spatial distribution of live fuelmoisture using AVHRR imagery and ground truth data.

·       Determine the spatial and temporal distributionof ground layer fuel moisture, using satellite and ground station data, andintegrate this information using a multi-index fire danger/behaviour system (theCanadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System will be evaluated in this study).

·       Evaluation of lightning risk using AVHRR imageryto track and assess thunderstorms.

·       Investigate the relationship between theatmospheric boundary layer and intense forest fire behaviour.

·       Develop an annual inventory and assessment of thearea burned by fires in all regions of boreal Russia.

Many of these collaborativeRussian/Canadian/United States forest fire research initiatives complement orreinforce a number of studies already planned by the Stand Replacement FireWorking Group of IBFRA and FIRESCAN respectively.

6.  Lessons Learned

Afterthe initial phase of FIRESCAN we found that the capabilities as well as themutual will to conduct this joint research campaign have been successfullyovercome shortcomings in research funding and the infrastructural andorganizational limitations. The mechanisms of international research agreementshave assembled and coordinated highly qualified research individuals and groupsfrom various disciplines and countries of origin. They were able to bring intheir specific expertise and funding, and, more importantly, enthusiasm. Thespirit of the joint research campaign is reflected by the procedure ofpublishing research results as papers jointly written by the FIRESCAN ScienceTeam, and not by individuals (cf. FIRESCAN Science Team, 1994a,b,c).
The follow-up of the 1993 campaign is not restricted to the immediate researchtargets addressed and the individuals who participated in the first phase. Fromthe beginning of the campaign new follow-up research agreements multipliedinstantaneously.
The explanation why this research campaign had been planned and implementedwithin a relatively short time lies in the nature of the research mechanismswithin the frame of IBGB/IGAC/BIBEX and IBFRA. None of these multilateralagreements on the working group or “field” level involves any largebureaucracy or centralized management of the various research components. Theonly “central” function is the coordination of the campaign. Thiscoordination is done through individual researchers on various levels. Since theresearchers themselves have limited or no secretarial support, alladministrative or coordinative actions are restricted to an absolute minimum.
Advanced communication systems, however, are an important prerequisite for theplanning and evaluation phases. The availability of electronic mail in theRussian Federation has bridged the gap of communication links wherever it wasdifficult to directly access places through telex or telephone/facsimilesystems. The envisaged set up of an East-West scientific DATA NET certainly willimprove information flow and joint work on data gained through campaigns such asFIRESCAN.

Figure 7.Aerial view of the Bor Forest Island Fire Experiment of July 1993. The resultsof this first East-West fire experiment have given important insights into theecology and atmospheric chemical impacts of boreal forest fires (Photo:J.G.Goldammer). (to be added later)

7. Conclusions: Implications forFuture Cooperative Research
The conclusions derived from the experience gained in setting up mechanisms inforest ecosystems and global change-related research between the East and theWest, forest fire research being an example for such kind of activities, areencouraging. The priorities have been recognized, relevant research programmesdefined, and the scientific capabilities and the enthusiasm to implement complexresearch agendas available.
The critical period ahead of us is burdened with the contemporary restructuringof the national economies of the CIS. It must be overcome through solidarity byresearchers and research funding mechanisms from the West. As the NATOconference statement (this volume) underscores, priority must be given tokeeping the human capital and scientific potential alive. The researchmechanisms described in this paper will provide a contribution.

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Editorial remark on this manuscript:

This manuscript has been published as follows:
Goldammer, J.G. and V.V. Furyaev. 1995. Global change, the boreal forest, andfire: Search for new strategies in science policies and research mechanisms.Science Policy: New Mechanisms for Scientific Collaboration between East andWest (V.A. Koptyug and J. Klerkx, eds.), 45-61. NATO ASI Series 4, Science andTechnology Policy Vol.1. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht-Boston-London,256 p.

In this web version the figures and tables have not yet been included.Some of the papers that have been cited in 1995 are meanwhile published.


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