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Up in smoke: biomass burning and atmospheric emissions in the Sudanian savanna of Cote d’Ivoire

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Title: Up in smoke: biomass burning and atmospheric emissions in the Sudanian savanna of Cote d’Ivoire
Author(s): Kone, Moussa
Director of Research: Bassett, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Bassett, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Wuebbles, Donald J.; Frank, Thomas D.; Luman, Donald E.
Department / Program: Geography
Discipline: Geography
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): biomass burning climate change carbon monoxide (CO) carbon dioxide (CO2) farming and pastoral activities fire fire temperature greenhouse gases land cover change savanna vegetation political ecology West Africa.
Abstract: This dissertation investigates human influences on climate change with an emphasis on biomass burning at the local and regional scales in the sudanian savanna of Côte d’Ivoire. Fire is an important management tool in farming and pastoral systems of West Africa. The climate change literature argues that biomass burning is an important source of greenhouse gases, chemically active gases, and aerosols. In addition, climate change scientists consider West African savannas as the “burn center” of the planet characterized by middle and late dry season intense fires that produce large amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) and up to 40% of gross carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere each year. The general hypothesis of this research is that the contribution of biomass burning to global climate change in terms of greenhouse gases, chemically active gases, and aerosols has been overestimated because of misconceptions about burning practices and diverse savanna ecology, and that the anti-burning land use policies based on the current scientific literature may be misconceived. I argue that biomass burning increasingly takes place in the early dry season. Early dry season fires are less destructive and thus favor the expansion of woody species. Less intense burning also produces fewer gas and aerosol emissions into the atmosphere while increased vegetation cover sequesters more carbon dioxide. The research takes the political ecological approach to further our understanding of burning regimes in the sudanian savanna of Côte d’Ivoire, to present a more accurate assessment of land use and land cover, and to determine the contribution of biomass burning in the sudanian savanna ecosystems to global climate change. Research methods included household surveys, participant observation, vegetation analysis, real-time gas measurements in experimental plots, and high spatial resolution satellite image interpretation. Biomass burning, gas measurements and vegetation analyses conducted in the Korhogo region in northern Côte d’Ivoire show less intense burning and much lower levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions during the early dry season as compared to the middle and late dry season. Emissions of CO and CO2 are less than believed because the timing of savanna fires and the fuel load in savanna ecosystems that burn are different than what is presumed. I found that farmers and herders set fire to the savanna much earlier in the dry season than assumed in the climate change literature. I conclude that the shift to early dry season fires and the diversity of savanna vegetation suggest that the contribution of savanna fires to global climate change appears to be less alarming than assumed in the literature. In addition, I found that adaptation strategies of West African farmers and herders to cope with socioeconomic vulnerability also constitute opportunities for the climate change carbon mitigation. Therefore, they should benefit from climate change compensation measures such as carbon credits.
Issue Date: 2012-05-22
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Moussa Kone
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-05-22
Date Deposited: 2012-05

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