Call for Data: US Post-Fire Tree Mortality

We seek data contributions to a Joint Fire Sciences Program project examining tree mortality due to wildland fire in the U.S. We are interested in U.S. datasets that at minimum include year of fire, county, state, and individual tree records of species, DBH and crown injury (some measure of crown scorch, kill, and/or consumption).

These datasets will be aggregated into an archived database of post-fire tree mortality and used to:

  1. validate existing predictive post-fire mortality models and
  2. examine the influence of pre-fire climate to improve predictions of post-fire tree mortality.

The archived data product will be made publicly available within one year of project completion (approximately 2020). Additional project detail from JFSP »

Contributors will receive authorship of the formally published archived data product and, at minimum, acknowledgement of contribution in published articles.

Please contact C. Alina Cansler via ccansler@fs.fed.us or (406) 829-6980 for additional information or questions. Thank you for your interest.

More fire–fewer firefighters?

Today’s science topic highlights a fire management conundrum:  While the number of acres burned in Alaska and most of the West is increasing, the number of wildland
firefighters available to suppress them is doing the opposite.  Conscoldtrail-sider the data published in Wildfire Today’s article last year  (Gabbert 2015).  The number of employees in the 5 major federal land management agencies who manage fires have all shrunk–by 6% at FWS to 18% at BLM to 33% at BIA.   Although these numbers are national, Alaska’s agencies have mirrored some of these reductions (and recall that large fire incidents tap the national pool of firefighters).  By some estimates the number of federally-employed firefighters is down by about 20% from 2011.

Boundary Fire study relates burn severity to permafrost degradation

The most important ecological effects of fire may not be evident for many years after burning.  Take permafrost, for example:   just-published research is revealing extensive thawing and drying of soils in the aftermath of the Boundary Fire in interior Alaska.  Brown et al. 2016 found almost all the severely burned plots in their study had thawed by 10 years after the 2004 fire.  Without permafrost the burned areas were better drained, leading to drier soils, and influencing vegetation succession.

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Typical burn appearance after 3 years (R. Jandt)

Another interesting facet of their study was the array of remotely-sensed data that Brown and colleagues employed, including optical and infrared spectra (Landsat 7 & 8), radar (L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar, or ALOS-PALSAR), and topographic (Light Detection and Ranging–LiDAR) datasets. Infrared indices used in the study were strongly correlated with soil moisture–allowing researchers to map the distribution of permafrost and compare it to burn severity maps.

Citation:
Brown, D.R.N., Jorgenson, M.T., Kielland, Knut, Verbyla, D.L., Prakash, Anupma and J.C. Koch. 2016. Landscape effects of wildfire on permafrost distribution in interior Alaska derived from remote sensing.  Remote Sensing 8 (8): 654, doi:10.3390/rs8080654.

 

C.A.R.V.E. and the Carbon Detectives

How do you know whether forest fires or factories and diesel generators are responsible for Black Carbon or CO2 in the air or deposited in icefields?  An experiment called CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) led by Chip Miller of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory was conducted in Alaska’s airspace and some results just published explain how the source can be identified.  The combustion of woody biomass (or more importantly in Alaska–layers of compacted dead moss and organic soil) liberates primarily carbon deposited since World War II into CO2.  That modern post-bomb carbon contains traces of radioactive  carbon (Δ14C) in contrast to fossil fuels, deposited in prehistoric times, which have none.

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CARVE:  Sherpa aircraft flew sensors over fires in Alaska in 2013 to measure atmospheric concentrations of gases.

 

 

 

 

During the CARVE experiment, Sherpa aircraft flew sensors to measure atmospheric concentrations of CH4, CO2, and CO and parameters that control gas emissions (i.e. soil moisture, freeze/thaw state, surface temperature). They directly flew over some fires (including fires near Fairbanks and Delta) to measure the “fingerprint” concentrations of isotopes released by typical boreal burning.  Mouteva et al. (2015) published findings that showed most of the C in the summer skies over Alaska in 2013 was indeed attributable to forest fires and the age of the biomass converted to black carbon averaged about 20 years (range 11-47 yrs).  The authors also explore using the carbon isotope “fingerprint” of fires to estimate the average depth of consumption–since Δ14C increases with depth from the surface moss to the mesic horizon.  Pooled results of radioactive isotope fractions yielded an average depth of burn of about 8 inches for the 2013 Alaska fires–a result that may vary depending on fuel conditions.  Burn severity, expressed as depth of consumption, is a hot topic among agencies and land managers because it drives ecological response to burning as well as vegetation changes which may come with the hypothesized climate-driven increased boreal burning.

Citation:  Mouteva, G. O., et al. (2015), Black carbon aerosol dynamics and isotopic composition in Alaska linked with boreal fire emissions and depth of burn in organic soils, Global Biogeochem. Cycles: 29, doi:10.1002/2015GB005247.

 

 

Pondering Climate Change and Alaska Fire Regime

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Smoke plume from the 2015 Card Street fire in Alaska (Photo: Alaska Division of Forestry)

In the aftermath of Alaska’s 2nd largest fire season in 2015, followed by a record-breaking warm winter & spring (again) people are wondering if climate warming may be partly to blame.  With Alaska warming twice as fast as the western US, it seems fire regime change is already upon us–and starting to receive national attention.  Three new fire science research proposals were just funded for the Alaska region to look help understand and plan for these changes:  The national Joint Fire Science Program funded “Implications for Operational Costs and Complexity under Future Scenarios“and “Alaskan Tundra Fires During a Time of Rapid Climate Change“.  Both proposals attempt to help fire managers cope with climate-induced changes in the boreal fire regime and address research priorities of the Alaska wildfire management community. A third proposal “Seasonal Climate Forecasting Applied to Wildland Fire Management in Alaska” was funded by NOAA to investigate the large-scale climate drivers of fire weather in Alaska with a focus on lightning, temperature, and precipitation and expand the forecasts and tools available to fire managers. It’s not just high latitudes feeling the heat–a recent piece by the New York Times interviewed fire managers and ecologists around the country for their take on changes: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/science/wildfires-season-global-warming.html  And if you want to see how another hot news item–  politics!!–might play into wildland fire, see this interesting new report by Joint Fire Science Program:  Scanning the Future of Wildfire: Resilience ahead whether we like it or not!

 

Western Forester Article on Fuel Breaks in Alaska

The first 2016 issue of Western Forester contains a pair of short articles on the Nenana Ridge crown fire experiment and fuel break effectiveness at Funny River and the studies in progress on fuel break effectiveness in Alaska.  Eric Miller (BLM-Alaska Fire Service) and Nathan Lowjewski (Chugachmiut Forester) did a nice job on these write-ups!  Eric’s article gives the first published account of what happened in 2016 when wildfire challenged a 10-year old thinned fuel break in black spruce, as well as insight to the “hows” and “whys” of fire behavior in fuel breaks.  Here’s a link to the issue:  http://www.forestry.org/media/docs/westernforester/2016/WFJanFeb2016-2_LT3qttf.pdf

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The Yukon Hot Shot Crew puts finishing touches on experimentally thinned fuel treatment blocks in June, 2007 (R.Jandt).

Michigan Scientists Integral to Wildand Fire Research in Alaska

You might be surprised by the amount of collaboration between Alaska and Michigan-based scientists over the last 2 decades!  This has been a long-standing research relationship which has spawned many useful products–including Alaska’s fire perimeter map database!  Other endeavors include satellite fire detection and mapping, fuel moisture detection, improvements in fuels mapping, tundra fire research and more. Read about the history of this research relationship and its important findings and products, still ongoing with some exciting current research endeavors in a new Research Brief (LINK).

Nov. 2015 Research Brief, 3pp

Nov. 2015 Research Brief, 3pp

Wildland Fire Science in Alaska Gets Help From ABoVE

NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Study (ABoVE) has focused a research spotlight on Alaska & Canada this year.  In August, 2015, they announced 21 new projects funded for a multi-year field campaign designed to investigate the ecological and social impacts of changing permafrost, wildfires, and wildlife habitats in Alaska and northwestern Canada.  Many of these involve new approaches to use remote sensing information from satellites.  At least 5 funded projects involve field work in Alaska and direct involvement with the wildfire science and/or management in Alaska.  Read about the new ABoVE projects at:

http://above.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/above/search_projects.pl?action=4&sol=Terrestrial%20Ecology%20%282014%29

Randi Jandt & Dave Yokel sample a sea of cottongrass 4 years after the Anaktuvuk River fire in Alaska.

Randi Jandt & Dave Yokel sample a sea of cottongrass 4 years after the Anaktuvuk River fire in Alaska.

Fire Weather Indices in Alaskan Tundra Expected to Respond to Climate Warming: New Article

A multi-decadal analysis of fire in Alaskan tundra ecotones was completed using records from the Alaska Large Fire Database and an analysis of future fire potential was performed based on future climate scenarios and the Canadian Fire Weather Indices (FWI).  The authors analyze tundra fire potential in different tundra areas and conclude that most areas will see substantial increase in the number of high-fire-potential days in the next few decades.  This figure shows, for example, the Seward Peninsula and Southwest areas with historical (1951-2005) fire weather indices and modeled with 3 different climate projections to 2095.  Although the Seward Peninsula FWI only exceeded 20 twice in the historical record (1977 & 2005), it is projected to exceed 20 much more frequently in the  next decades.  Read the full article:  French, N. H. F., L. K. Jenkins, T. V. Loboda, M. Flannigan, R. Jandt, L. L. Bourgeau-Chavez, and M. Whitley, 2015: Fire in arctic tundra of Alaska: past fire activity, future fire potential, and significance for land management and ecology. Int. J. Wildland Fire, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF14167.

Historical and projected Fire Weather Index values over Seward Peninsula, from French et al. 2015. Black represents modeled historical FWI and colors represent modeled future FWI for the three IPCC RCPs evaluated.

Historical and projected Fire Weather Index values over Seward Peninsula, from French et al. 2015. Black represents modeled historical FWI  (to 2005) and colors represent modeled future FWI for the three IPCC RCPs evaluated.