£800k study to look at link between fire and climate change

CSIRO Project Aquarius experimental fire Block 20, 1/3/83, McCorkhill, WA. Fire emerging from block 1 hour after ignition. Crowning of intermediate tree layer. Intensity 7500 kW/m, rate of spread 800-1000 m/h. CSIRO [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

University of Stirling researchers have received a £800K grant to study what proportion of carbon captured by soil is from partially burned plants.

£800k study to look at link between fire and climate change


University of Stirling experts will lead a new £800,000 study investigating the behaviour of pyrogenic carbon – partly-burned plants left behind following fire – and its potential impact on climate change.

Fires affect more than 500 million hectares of the world’s surface each year – with the majority occurring naturally – and leave residues of pyrogenic carbon (PyC), similar to charcoal.

However, due to the lack of data available, it is not clear what proportion of soil carbon derives from PyC; by which processes PyC is incorporated into the soil; how quickly it returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide; and how these processes may be impacted by climatic conditions.

Dr Subke, Lead Principal Investigator, said: “It is estimated that pyrogenic carbon contributes between 116 and 379 teragrams of carbon to soils each year – a considerable amount given that the annual net increase of carbon to all of Earth’s ecosystems on land is around 4,300 teragrams. In some fire-prone ecosystems – such as tropical savannahs – deposits from fire can account for as much as half of total carbon stored in soils.

Read more: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-05/uos-st050820.php

I confess I never really thought about the difference between soil charcoal from fires and soil carbon from decomposition of forest debris. But Dr. Subke’s point that up to half the carbon sequestered in some soil could be fire residue, and that it is not known about how much fire contributes to soil carbon content, makes you wonder how accurate current models of soil carbon are.

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May 12, 2020 10:10 am

The models are likely off and mostly useless anyway. There. I just saved the long suffering Australian tax payer 800 million pounds.

Reply to  troe
May 12, 2020 11:16 am

The australian taxpayer was never at risk . Stirling is a Scottish University . The money is coming mainly from England and much of it will be spent in Gabon.

-“Dr Subke will work alongside fellow Principal Investigators: tropical ecologist Professor Kate Abernethy (University of Stirling); Dr Philippa Ascough (Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, University of Glasgow), an expert in global biogeochemical cycles and specifically pyrogenic carbon; and Professor Francesca Cotrufo (Colorado State University), an international leader in modelling soil organic matter dynamics.
Senior researcher Dr François-Xavier Joly (University of Stirling) will provide further critical expertise in soil organic matter formation and faunal processing of biomass, while Dr Kathryn Brun-Jeffery (National Parks Agency of Gabon) will link the findings to carbon accounting for the National Climate Council of Gabon.”-

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  mikewaite
May 12, 2020 11:31 am

Will the results of this study mean that one less fudge factor (aka tuning parameter) will be needed in the climate models?

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Farmer Ch E retired
May 12, 2020 2:34 pm

More likely they invented three more factors that need fudging.

Reply to  mikewaite
May 12, 2020 1:23 pm

The money is coming mainly from England.
Yep. Just like all those infrastructure projects were financed “by the European Union”.
And there was I thinking I was paying tax all of my adult life whereas it was all my imagination. Scottish Universities were getting all of their money from taxpayers in England. I wasn’t really paying any tax at all. And neither was anybody else in Scotland. Lucky us.

Reply to  Alba
May 13, 2020 4:36 am

Money is from NATIONAL Envi Res Coun funded by tax of both Scottish and English taxpayers . Population of Scotland: 5.5M
Population of England : 55 M

Reply to  mikewaite
May 12, 2020 6:03 pm

Gabon has a “National Climate Council”?

I bet they got their business model from the “Revenuers”

(Just as all the carbon taxers around the world did)

Henning Nielsen
Reply to  troe
May 12, 2020 1:04 pm

The Aussies use spend Australia dollars, not pounds, in useless climate research.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Henning Nielsen
May 12, 2020 2:36 pm

Unless we measure dollars by the pound? How much does a brown paper bag of money weigh?

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
May 12, 2020 6:05 pm

Ask Senator Sam Dastyari.

Reply to  troe
May 12, 2020 4:02 pm

“The models are likely off and mostly useless anyway. There. I just saved the long suffering Australian tax payer 800 million pounds.”

Or 800 thousand (that’s what 800k means). But what’s an order of magnitude between friends?

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
May 12, 2020 5:03 pm

Or three…

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
May 13, 2020 9:29 am


Martin Howard Keith Brumby
May 12, 2020 10:11 am

“It’s worse than we thought”

There. Conclusions written for them.

Michael Ozanne
Reply to  Martin Howard Keith Brumby
May 12, 2020 10:55 am

Don’t forget “Send more Money” sorry “Further Research Required…”

Right-Handed Shark
May 12, 2020 10:25 am

Okay, well the potential impact on climate change is zero, or close to it. Where’s my £800K?

John Bell
May 12, 2020 10:26 am

All this money going toward the study of irrelevant little things, just another leftist ploy to be parasitic on society.

May 12, 2020 11:16 am

Of course it is more garbage science. But this is the kind of spending that makes global warming such a formidable religion. After receiving an 800 thousand pound bribe, do you really think anyone from the University of Stirling in the future is going to seriously question global warming in public? Bribery does wonders for a man’s moral compass.

Unrelated, but I’ve often wondered how many news media reporters and editors have been bribed by different organizations and how many are just ignorant useful idiots. It would be interesting for example to know how much money the Democratic Party in the United States has set aside under various code names for bribery and how many news organizations are being secretly paid off. What about in the European Union? For example, how does the EU disguise their anti-Brexit bribes?

Otto von Bismark was said to have used the entire seized treasury of the state of Hanover for bribing newspapers all over Europe. And that was in the early days of news manipulation. Some things never change.

Gerry, England
Reply to  Marty
May 13, 2020 4:17 am

The EU actually funds green loonies to campaign against its own proposals! Helps them justify what they are doing when they make proposals worse because of the greenie response.

May 12, 2020 11:18 am

£800,000 shot to hell. They might just as well have taken the £800,000 and set fire to it. Probably no worse than most “global warming” research, though. Better numbers to plug into models that aren’t worth a poop; better garbage out.

May 12, 2020 11:29 am

Lets commission a report…
heres £800,000 … Del Boy ……… ‘luvly Jubbly’
But before I start, what do you want it to say ?

May 12, 2020 11:38 am

Early science proves that all good science is done for free.

Now we just have pay-for-play science. The conclusion is decided ahead of time. It’s disgusting.

Reply to  Zoe Phin
May 12, 2020 2:35 pm

We ran out of early science in 1905.

Reply to  Zoe Phin
May 12, 2020 6:13 pm

Yes Zoe.
Classical science used to be –
Hhmm – we see happening. Wonder what causes that?
What data would we need to explain it?

Nowadays it’s –
Hhmm – we see happening. Wonder what causes that?
Let’s assert that we already have the answer.
What data have we got that we can make to fit our assertion?

May 12, 2020 12:12 pm

Let’s make a little comparison shall we?

Today a doctor on Radio 4 finally admitted the Covid scare made no more mortality than the 2018 Flu…
On top of which he said as an example “SWEDEN….probably had it right.” and that Lockdowns didn’t work.
I was so stunned in disbelief that someone actually told the truth I had to blink and start recording the rest of the interview….
I stared really hard at the radio to check I wasn’t dreaming.

The interviewer said “in this case, if we didn’t lockdown in 2018, what was the point in locking down in 2020″…?

about which he replied in view of the damage caused, ……

The only possible reason was that the NHS were only able and ready for the PEAK on 8th april, (so it was in fact only to save the skin of a few inept politicians who despite having been warned months in advance bumbled and prevaricated) to such an extent that 1/3 of the deaths ended up being in precisely the places we should be taking care to protect.

So, after reading a little about the capers of Carrie Symonds, and her activism, (Fighting plastic pollution @ Oceana. Former Director of Comms for Conservatives & Govt Special Adviser. Patron of @ ConservativeAWF)
the equally crazy capers of MARK CARNEY (” Firms ignoring climate crisis will go bankrupt, says Mark Carney, Bank of England governor warns of financial collapse linked to climate emergency”).
Carney got paid nearly 1m UKP to come up with this weird anti economic, anti growth crap.

I have to admit the “climate emergency” religion, is an exact corollary of the “COVID SCARE 2020”.
All of them rely on some sort of quasi religious brainwashing to declare there is ONLY ONE WAY..

The guru hath spoken, and anyone who questions this scary brain disorder is to be excommunicated and cast out.

TBQH I don’t see any difference between the Pope, the BBC/mass media, and the sheer astonishing levels of corruption & lies that go with it all.

A drop in the ocean compared with the 39K to get a “COVID” death cert for medicare in the USA (if accompanied by ventilator treatment) compared with just 5k for a banal “dunno what that was”.

A drop in the ocean compared with the 200 billion it will now cost the UK for keeping half the working population on a government payroll and basically nationalising most of British industry….never mind the 2 trillion in the USA…..

Will someone kindly put the lunatics back in the asylum so that some of us can go back to doing something useful and productive?

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  pigs_in_space
May 12, 2020 2:41 pm

We are seriously outnumbered by lunatics. They’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere and in everything, and they’d survive a nuke from orbit.

Reply to  pigs_in_space
May 12, 2020 7:09 pm

This comment by pigs in space could be a post. A comprehensive and interesting view that connects the covid and climate issues.

May 12, 2020 12:19 pm

This article inspired me to check on the output of one of my favourite academic wastes of money and space, Prof Catherine Mitchell of Exeter University, who got £1.3 million to do something, with the following output:

“In the first strand, our research on Innovation and Governance has been very creative and ‘new’, and it has led to a generalised understanding of the importance of governance across energy research in Great Britain. This has included work on theorising governance within energy systems and energy transitions aimed at the academic community through working papers and journal articles. In addition, there is a much wider body of work such as detailed case studies on people and energy, Codes and capacity markets; and our Fit-for-Purpose GB institutional Framework which is much more applied about the practical, institutional needs of transforming the energy system.”

Kit Blanke
Reply to  climanrecon
May 12, 2020 12:37 pm


Their gobbledygook generator is working overtime


Moderately Cross of East Anglia
Reply to  climanrecon
May 12, 2020 3:05 pm

A school student submitting a paragraph this badly written and so lacking in coherence would be told to go away and rewrite their work while learning when and how to use capital letters. Clearly, Exeter University is the preferred institution for those who fail the re-write but fancy a wheelbarrow full of money for putting a dictionary through a mincing machine and copying out the random and meaningless phrases that emerge.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Moderately Cross of East Anglia
May 12, 2020 5:10 pm

I didn’t pick up on the capitalisation; but now that you point it out there are a lot in there that are completely misplaced. If you accept that a capitalised word is the name of a company or system, it makes the paragraph even more nonsensical. A truly disastrous paragraph that doesn’t say anything at all.

Reply to  climanrecon
May 13, 2020 7:29 am

‘Prof Catherine Mitchell of Exeter University, who got £1.3 million to do something, with the following output:

“In the first strand….’

That’s just the first strand and there’s lots more strands to come that require ongoing funding. Strands are really good like that.

May 12, 2020 12:36 pm

how sad the trees are burning … tremendous post thank you for this information

Reply to  miguel811
May 13, 2020 9:30 am

They grow back. It’s called nature.

Richard from Brooklyn (south)
May 12, 2020 12:40 pm

I was instantly suspicious when the mass unit was in teragrams. I had believed that grams were intended for low mass stuff being measured (a teaspoon of sugar), kilos for higher mass things (like me) and tonnes for really massive things like ships or (ship loads of carbon).
Still, first rule for (pseudo)science communicators is to use very small units to inflate the numbers used. 116 teragrams is 116 mt (million tonnes)
On reading the story I felt a rush of 100 billion tera-curries of scepticism.
I was going to call the unit ‘watts’ but that is already taken, sorry Anthony and apologies to you Judith.

Greg Cavangh
Reply to  Richard from Brooklyn (south)
May 12, 2020 5:12 pm

All units should be in Olympic swimming pools.

Smart Rock
Reply to  Richard from Brooklyn (south)
May 12, 2020 5:41 pm

Calm down Richard from Brooklyn. 116 teragrams is only 0.116 of a petagram. Not so big after all!

The point of not using tons/tonnes or megatonnes is that those units actually mean something to the casual reader. By using teragrams, they are saying “we’re special because we’re dealing with numbers so huge that your puny sceptic’s brain can’t comprehend them”

On the other hand, mass loss from the Greenland icecap is usually quoted in hundreds of gigatonnes and not hundreds of petagrams. Presumably, as casual readers who can (sort of) visualize 300 billion tonnes of melted ice, we are supposed to start panicking about SLR and start looking at houses on hilltops. Of course they never say that the total mass of the icecap is about 4.5 million gigatonnes.

Learning to use the right units of mass to impress and intimidate the proletariat is obviously part of becoming a qualified climate scientist.

May 12, 2020 12:43 pm

2 of my pet hatred buzz words – favourites of the BS Broacasting corp…..

“POWERFUL”, usually arty feminist speak for we actually managed to get noticed…..

“Challenge” comes originally from Billy Graham I reckon.

eg. Bojo’s idiotic team, “we are incapable of managing to get p..ssed in a brewery cos we are so totally incompetent and inept,,,,= challenging situation!”

Reply to  pigs_in_space
May 12, 2020 6:27 pm


May 12, 2020 12:57 pm

They probably already have the paper’s conclusions written, they just need to fill in whatever fudged data they come up with. $1M to do some creative writing and a press releases in a few months. Nice gig.

May 12, 2020 1:49 pm

US forest fires were far worse before 1955….:


And I’m quite sure that that’s the case for global forest fires also, but maybe not as dramatic.


son of mulder
May 12, 2020 1:54 pm

Or just £10 to study the burning of money.

May 12, 2020 2:10 pm

Adding charcoal to soil is supposed to be a miracle. However, most of the places that need it use charcoal for fuel if they have any. My brother is currently making a furnace to burn sawdust as a soil additive. I guess he will have to wait till Oct now to burn anything, because the province has outlawed all outdoor burning this spring ‘to improve air quality during the COVID crisis’. Maybe they will also cancel the forest fire season.


May 12, 2020 2:40 pm

Seriously, what is the point of the research?
Research for its own sake ?

What will be the USEFULNESS of knowing whether the proportion of carbon in the soil of Gabon is X% derived from burned plants and 100-X% derived from something else?
Will those results be transferable to other countries (particularly those where forest fires are rare)?
And even if it does, so what? Is there a specific model that this research seeks to validate?

Will there be any information coming out of this study that can be used to help formulate policy?

These are the sorts of questions that should have been asked before the grant was approved, so the university should have no difficulty in answering them, and I invite the University of Stirling’s Vice Chancellor to set our minds at rest and convince us that this is not just a huge rip-off.
And on what basis will the conclusions be drawn ?

May 12, 2020 3:27 pm

The Alarmist Climate Models are developing more epicycles than Ptolemy in order to keep up with the ever changing science.

Joel Snider
May 12, 2020 3:28 pm

So. A waste of money.

Yeah, this is a good time to be wasteful.

May 12, 2020 3:30 pm

To conduct a study on the link between A and B, both A and B need to be real.
In this case FIRE is real and CLIMATE CHANGE is not.
On that basis the study needs to be abandoned and save the taxpayers some money for a change.

Eric Stevens
May 12, 2020 4:30 pm

In his book 1493 Mann (no, not that Mann) makes the point that in large parts of both North and South America, Australia and some other regions of the world, regular burn offs once were accepted practices in the millenia preceding the arrival of European settlers. These burn offs were small and frequent, and in some cases were even described as fires you could walk through. The partly burned carbonaceous fire debris remained to form part of the surface mulch and over a period of time became a substantial part of the soil layer. Apparently such soils are notably more fertile than soils containing no carbon. That we no longer use such agricultural practices must have had a geologically recent affect on the global carbon cycle.

May 12, 2020 4:31 pm

“I confess I never really thought about the difference between soil charcoal from fires and soil carbon from decomposition of forest debris.”

Me too. I always thought the C12/C13 isotope ratio was the same for plant-based carbon in fossil fuels and plant-based carbon throughout the oceans, grasslands and forests etc. that has decayed.

May 12, 2020 4:45 pm

Aboriginal land management in Australia used regular small burns. Current green land management uses excuses not to burn interspersed by irregular catastrophically hot burns.

Chances are, if studied properly, the current green mismanagement won’t come out too well to say the least, especially if the scope is broadened to include the inevitable consequences of very hot unplanned burns. Is that a result that most researchers in this field would feel comfortable with?

Hocus Locus
May 12, 2020 5:17 pm

Wouldn’t be smart to spend that £800k to look for a link between COVID19 and fire? If they find one we’re all screwed.

May 12, 2020 5:45 pm

Biochar resides in the soil for up to 2500 years. Deposits of carbon char (mostly charcoal) from over 2000 years ago (according to archeologists) is still enriching the poor soils of the Amazon in ancient settlement areas. The carbon was apparently applied to the soils for that purpose. It provides a structure for microorganisms to grow upon and it increases water retention by providing lots of surface area. It is largely chemically inactive, though it enhances lots of biological activity.

I suspect carbon residues from natural burns might be a significant carbon sink.

There are biochar enthusiasts that are advocates for sequestering carbon in biochar spread across agricultural lands…to save the world.

May 12, 2020 6:57 pm

This line of research, to burn forests and understand forest fires in a way that can be related to climate change is a vigorous and well funded endeavour worldwide and has been so for a few years.


May 12, 2020 10:30 pm

I guess as some of You already explained that the research is made to see what biocharcoal can do to the ecology as a fertilizer but to get the grant You have to use some magic words like “climate change” and “carbon sink” and “taking care of the carbon dioxide warming the climate”

May 13, 2020 12:48 am

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Reply to  Group Health
May 13, 2020 9:33 am

Spam bot.

May 13, 2020 2:00 am

More funds should be invested for this important research, these fires should not continue

Patrick MJD
May 13, 2020 4:34 am

What is 800K in any money these days with regards to “environmental” studies/projects? The Department of Conservation (DoC) in 2000 or so in New Zealand spent NZ$800k moving 1000 native worms from a road project.

May 13, 2020 5:29 am

I will do it for 400K and get the result they ‘need’ 😉

May 13, 2020 5:44 am

£800k study to look at link between fire and climate change. How utterly insane!!!

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