Fire’s Role in a Broadleaf Future for Alaska?

As climate warming brings more wildfire to the North, scientists and citizens wonder how the landscape will be transformed.  Will forests continue their 2000’s-era trend toward less spruce and more hardwoods, catalyzed by larger fires and more frequent burning?  If so, that might slow down the trend for larger and more intense fires. However, will hotter summers with more effective drying lead to increased fire re-entry into the early successional hardwoods, making them less strategic barriers for fire protection? A research team modeling the former question just unveiled an interactive web tool to model forest changes under various future climate scenarios (Feb. 1 webinar recording available HERE).  With the new web tool, funded by JFSP,  Paul Duffy and Courtney Schultz will be working with fire managers in Alaska to look at fire occurrence and cost in the future.  Try it for yourself at

Photo by USFS, PNW (2004).

As for the second question–will it be harder for hardwoods to resist fire–a recent paper in Ecosphere (Barrett et al. 2016) is one of the first published studies to look for an answer.  AFSC highlights that work with a Research Brief this month: A Deeper Look at Drivers of Fire Activity, Re-burns, and Unburned Patches in Alaska’s Boreal Forest.  Check out all our Research Briefs in our web Library.

Citation: Barrett, K, T. Loboda, AD McGuire, H. Genet, E. Hoy, and E. Kasischke. 2016. Static and dynamic controls on fire activity at moderate spatial and temporal scales in the Alaskan boreal forest. Ecosphere 7(11):e01572. 10.1002/ecs2.1572

Fire and Carbon Stores: the Rest of the Story

Estimates of carbon released from combustion of vegetation and organic soil during wildfires have improved dramatically over the past decade.  Biomass inventory, fire effects and fire severity studies have contributed more accurate data to improve these models. (See Ottmar 2007, Brendan Rogers webinar 2015)  However, figuring out the net effect of all the various effects of fire, the recovery phase and warming climate on the carbon stored in Alaska’s forests and tundra is a lot more challenging!  You’d have to consider changes in burn extent and/or severity, increases in plant productivity in recovering burns, changes in species composition and what that means for productivity, changes in permafCaptureIEMrost distribution and soil C decomposition, methane emissions and carbon fluxes in lake systems and wetlands–etc.!  A team lead by Dr. Dave McGuire at UAF has taken on this modeling challenge by applying their Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) which includes modules for fire, permafrost, and carbon cycling. Dave recently presented an overview of their findings at an IARPC-WCT/AFSC joint webinar (presentation slides available HERE).  In a nutshell, they found: 1) tundra holds 2x the carbon that boreal forest does in the same area 2) there has been a net C loss from boreal land area of about 8 Tg/yr over the last 60 years, primarily driven by large fires during the 2000’s 3) arctic tundra and SE Alaska still act as C sinks, compensating for these losses so that overall, Alaska sequesters about 3.7 Tg/yr,  4) increases in fire extent predicted with with warming climate will release even more C, but longer growing seasons and increased plant growth (as much as 8-19% increased productivity throughoCaptureALFut the remainder of this century) with warmer climate and higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are estimated to offset these losses under most of the climate projection scenarios. Since this nutshell summary glosses over a lot, you should take a look at the slides and the SNAP projects page with information on scenarios and the individual models used.

Presentations available from the CFFDRS Summit in Fairbanks!

This presentation and MANY MORE available on fuel moisture sampling, remote sensing validation of FWI, new remote sensing tools for fire detection and growth modeling, using dataloggers on soil moisture probes to track fuel moisture changes, and the seasonality of CFFDRS, to name a few.

Whether you were there or missed it, the presentations and recorded videos from the  2014 Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System Summit held in Fairbanks October 28-30th are worth reviewing.  2014. The workshop was a great opportunity to discuss fire risk indices and fire behavior applications in Alaska and to hear how fire managers in Canada, the Great Lakes States and around the world are using the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System. There were over 50 managers and scientists in attendance.

Breakout group at the October 2014 CFFDRS Summit in Fairbanks

Breakout group at the October 2014 CFFDRS Summit in Fairbanks

Presentation on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at UAF–Now Available!

The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration is a research center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for small, unmanned aircraft systems–UAVs, often referred to as “drones”– providing integration of unique payloads and supporting pathfinder missions within government and science communities–including the Fire Management Community.  ACUASI has 11 different aircraft with more coming all the time.  Deputy Director Ro Bailey gave a presentation at the Interagency Dispatchers workshop March 26, 2014 and allowed us to post her slides for those who weren’t at the meeting.  Find the presentation on AFSC’s Events> Previous Events> Meetings or link to the presentation page HERE.

2014-UAV for Interagency Dispatchers Mar26_Page_01



Upcoming webinar: Effect of Tundra Fires on Post-fire Vegetation

Teresa Hollingsworth, USFS and Amy Breen, UAF-SNAPTundra_Fire


Apr 28, 2014  2:00 pm – 3:00 pm  AK time. Register. >> Events

Amy and Teresa will summarize the history of tundra fires in Alaska and share preliminary results of their research to characterize post-fire plant communities, quantify fuel accumulation, and model tundra fire regimes and vegetation dynamics.


Webinar about Black Carbon in the Atmosphere


National experts will be giving a talk to bring you up to speed on this issue if you’d like to know more about sources of soot in the atmosphere (including wildfire) and whether pollution control efforts are having any effect.  Speakers include: In-situ ground sensing: Patricia Quinn (NOAA);  Satellite remote sensing: Ralph Kahn (NASA); and Transport modeling: Mark Jacobson (Stanford).

Date: April 18, 2014  Time: 3:00-4:30 EDT (that’s 11:00-12:30 Alaska Daylight time)   Register at IARPC Collaboration website.

The Atmosphere Collaboration Team of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) is hosting the second of two webinars on black carbon which are open to the community. The intent of the second webinar is to share information about current science questions and activities related to Arctic black carbon. Experts will be on hand to share information and answer questions in an effort to inform the Atmosphere Collaboration Team of IARPC of possible future interagency activities related to Arctic black carbon.

Webinar Synopsis

Black carbon is “the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing.” When BC is deposited on snow and ice, it darkens an otherwise bright surface. The darker surface may enhance the absorption of solar radiation resulting in an acceleration of snow and ice melting. In addition, BC particles suspended in the atmosphere absorb solar radiation and heat the surrounding air. Atmospheric BC can also alter cloud properties leading to changes in cloud amount and precipitation. Black carbon has multiple sources including domestic combustion for heating and cooking, diesel combustion related to transportation, fossil fuel and biofuel combustion for power generation, agricultural burning, and wildfires. Identification of the sources and types of black carbon (both the geographical region of the source and the combustion process) is necessary for effectively mitigating its climate impacts. In addition, measurements of black carbon are required to verify whether implemented mitigation strategies that target BC emissions from certain sources are actually leading to reductions in BC concentrations in the Arctic atmosphere and surface. In 2013, NOAA’s Arctic Report Card added a black carbon assessment to the Atmosphere Section; the primary conclusions of the assessment are that (1) the average equivalent black carbon concentrations in 2012 at locations Alert (Nunavut, Canada), Barrow (Alaska, USA) and Ny-Alesund (Svalbard, Norway) were similar to average EBC concentrations during the last decade and (2) equivalent black carbon has declined by as much as 55% during the 23 year record at Alert and Barrow (Sharma et al. 2013).


April 8th Science for Lunch: Shortened Fire Return Intervals in Alaska

Jennifer Barnes, NPS Regional Fire Ecologist

Tuesday April 8th, 12:00 pm AK time. Contact NPS Stacia Backensto for information:  907-455-0669.

The Uluksian fire of 2007 (by P. Higuera).

The Uluksian fire of 2007 (by P. Higuera).

Jennifer will discuss the results of recent NPS studies on climate change impacts to boreal forest and tundra fire regimes.


Webinar Recording Available– 2013 Alaska Fire Modeling Lessons Learned

Lisa Saperstein, USFWS, Brian Sorbel, NPS, and Robert Ziel, DOFFireModelingLessons

Wed, March 5, 10:00 am. Visit our Vimeo page to view the recorded webinar!

Organized by the Alaska Fire Modeling and Analysis Committee, this webinar employed an expert panel to look back at some of the modeling work that occurred in 2013, specifically focused on lessons learned that can be carried forward into 2014.  Some important points covered–what’s the difference between fire modeling in FSPro vs. Canadian BEHAVE system; how to tweak landscape cover and crown fire models to get reasonable results; using auxiliary information like Google Earth, Landsat imagery, and MODIS hotspots to inform your run.  Don’t forget, there is a manual–available on the FMAC page above!: FSPro Analysis in Alaska: A Users Guide

(Image: 7 day fire spread probability of Lime Hills fire, June 24, 2013, and June 30 perimeter (black line). Courtesy Lisa Saperstein.)

Webinar Summary: What do Forest Fires, Caribou, and Monster Truck Tires have in Common? by Matt Nolan

Dr. Matt  Nolan shared results from his recent airborne photogrammetry campaigns in Alaska, and related them to possible fire and forest management applications in a webinar on February 25, 2014.  There is now a 2-page Webinar Summary about the topic and you can also watch the recorded webinar ( on AFSC’s website.  Dr. Nolan is a Research Associate Professor at UAF’s Institute of Northern Engineering with degrees in geophysics and arctic and mechanical engineering. He’sNolan-Webinar-2014-THUMB_Page_1 been pioneering new high-tech uses of an old tool—the aerial photo.  With new advances in computer processing and display technologies, airborne Digital SLR Photogrammetry is an even more powerful tool for field sciences, especially in remote areas like Alaska. Compared to LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, or aerial 3D laser scanning), the low cost of DSLR photogrammetry makes it more affordable to make time-series of high-resolution maps, opening up  new possibilities for analyzing and understanding changes in the environment. Forest inventory, fire fuels assessments (like canopy height), snow depth, and post-burn vegetation recovery and monitoring are just a few examples of applications that could benefit from time-series of topographic measurements on an annual, monthly, or other repeating basis.

Dowload Webinar Summary <<LINK>>

Do Bark Beetles Affect Fire Occurrence/Property Value on the Kenai? Watch the Video.

Hansen Thesis DefenseIf you weren’t able to hear this talk in person, watch the video posted on Alaska Fire Science Consortium website: Linked Disturbance Interactions in South-Central Alaska:  Implications for Ecosystems and People.
For his MS Thesis, Winslow 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.    (By permission– Thanks Winston!)