Wildfires are a natural part of the boreal forest ecosystem. Fires are necessary for maintaining vegetation diversity and provide a diverse habitat for wildlife, but fires can also present a threat to human values. Alaska has seen a recent increase in the frequency of large fire years, with three of the top ten largest years (since 1940) occurring in the last decade. Over the past 50 years, Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Warmer temperatures have lead to longer snow-free seasons, changes in vegetation, and loss of ice and permafrost, all of which can contribute to longer and more active fire seasons. It is likely that the Alaskan boreal forest will experience some dramatic changes over the next century. Learning about these changes and their potential impacts can help guide us in planning for the future.
Climate, Fire, Frost and the Carbon Bank: This 2-page research brief summarizes several years of field studies–citing recently published articles–by USGS soil scientists Jennifer Harden and Kristen Manies. Their studies shed new light on the impact of fires on permafrost in Alaska boreal forest, and interactions of fire effects and freezing effects on the forest floor. The insulating moss/duff layer plays a critical role in protecting permafrost and conditions suitable for the rapid regrowth of permafrost are keys to determining whether boreal forest will retain its ability to store large amounts of biomass carbon.
Global wildland fire season severity in the 21st century: A 1-page research brief summarizes a recently published article by Canadian fire scientist Mike Flannigan of the University of Alberta. Dr. Flannigan is well-known in Alaska fire management circles due to his contributions to boreal forest wildfire studies and the Canadian large fire database. This 2013 article describes the use of component indices of the Canadian Fuels Danger Rating System to forecast future changes in fire season severity world-wide.
Is Alaska’s Boreal Forest Now Crossing a Major Ecological Threshold?: Read up on what Alaskan forest and climate research has found out about the influence of warming climate on boreal forests in the Interior! Here’s a new 2-page Research Brief that digests one of the more significant papers on forest and climate change. The authors– Dan Mann, Scott Rupp, Mark Olson and Paul Duffy– are well-known to Alaska fire managers. This is a good basis to our upcoming focus on multi-faceted influences of dynamic climate on fire regime, forests, and fire management in Alaska in 2014!
For his MS Thesis, Winslow Hansen explored the social and ecological implications of changing boreal forest natural disturbance regimes. He analyzed how the occurrence of spruce bark beetle outbreak has altered the probability of subsequent wildfire activity between 2001 and 2009 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska as well as the economic impact of fire and insect disturbances to private property values.
In late April 2013, scientists from universities in Alaska, Florida, and Saskatchewan met with fire managers and resource specialists to share early results from a study called Identifying Indicators of State Change and Forecasting Future Vulnerability in Alaskan Boreal Ecosystems. This project, funded by the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), looks at military training lands in interior boreal forest ecosystems and surroundings. The objectives are to 1) determine linkages among climate, fire, soils, permafrost, and vegetation succession; 2) test field-based measurements indicating boreal ecosystem vulnerability to state change; and 3) forecast landscape change in response to projected changes in climate, fire regime, and fire management.
Summary of the latest findings on predicted vs. observed climate trends across the US were presented at a Webinar hosted by ACCAP and the National Climate Assessment Team–Alaska Chapter on March 6, 2013. Presenters were Dr. John Walsh, a well-known weather and climate scientist from UAF, and Dr. Sarah Trainor, Director of ACCAP.
Summary of the Alaska Fire and Fuels Research Map, which provides online site-level information and locations for fire and fuels-related studies through a map interface. Funding for the initial development was provided by the Joint Fire Science Program and it is hosted through Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
Dr. Carissa Brown, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Sherbrooke, will be joining us for a webinar on February 23, 2012 (11:00 am to noon AKST) entitled “Once burned, twice shy: Repeat fires result in black spruce regeneration failure.” Dr. Brown is currently studying plant species and communities at the edge of their range, focusing on the direct and indirect effects of climate change on species distribution at northern latitudes. Most recently, her work has focused on the responses to altered fire frequency at the northern margin of the boreal forest, particularly in black spruce forests.
This document summarizes the 2011 AFSC workshop. Topics discussed included boreal fire history datasets in Alaska, fire return intervals in boreal forests, the Probabilistic Fire Analysis System (PFAS), the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy, impacts of changing tundra fire regimes on caribou and moose, Alaskan early season forecasting tool, and state change and vulnerability in Alaska boreal forests.