Tundra burning in Alaska: linkages to climatic change and sea ice retreat
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Feng Sheng Hu; Philip E. Higuera; John E. Walsh; William L. Chapman; Paul A. Duffy; Linda B. Brubaker; Melissa L. Chipman
Publication Year: 2010

Cataloging Information

  • Arctic
  • charcoal
  • climate change
  • cover
  • fire case histories
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • natural areas management
  • paleoecology
  • sedimentation
  • soil organic matter
  • tundra
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 19, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 48992
Tall Timbers Record Number: 25258
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Not in File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Recent climatic warming has resulted in pronounced environmental changes in the Arctic, including shrub cover expansion and sea ice shrinkage. These changes foreshadow more dramatic impacts that will occur if the warming trend continues. Among the major challenges in anticipating these impacts are ''surprises'' stemming from changes in system components that have remained relatively stable in the historic record. Tundra burning is potentially one such component. Here we report paleoecological evidence showing that recent tundra burning is unprecedented in the central Alaskan Arctic within the last 5000 years. Analysis of lake sediment cores reveals peak values of charcoal accumulation corresponding to the Anaktuvuk River Fire in 2007, with no evidence of other fire events throughout the past five millennia in that area. Atmospheric reanalysis suggests that the fire was favored by exceptionally warm and dry weather conditions in summer and early autumn. Boosted regression tree modeling shows that such conditions also explain 95% of the interannual variability in tundra area burned throughout Alaska over the past 60 years and that the response of tundra burning to climatic warming is nonlinear. These results contribute to an emerging body of evidence suggesting that tundra ecosystems can burn more frequently under suitable climatic and fuel conditions. The Anaktuvuk River Fire coincides with extreme sea ice retreat, and tundra area burned in Alaska is moderately correlated with sea ice extent from 1979 to 2009 (r = -0.43, p = 0.02). Recurrences of large tundra fires as a result of sea ice disappearance may represent a novel manifestation of coupled marine-terrestrial responses to climatic warming. © 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.

Online Link(s):
Hu, F. S., P. E. Higuera, J. E. Walsh, W. L. Chapman, P. A. Duffy, L. B. Brubaker, and M. L. Chipman. 2010. Tundra burning in Alaska: linkages to climatic change and sea ice retreat. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, v. 115, p. G04002-G04008. 10.1029/2009.