Related Research Areas
Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems

We propose a study of the impacts of a changing climate on tundra fire and the implications for tundra ecosystem services vulnerable to a changing fire regime. The overall goal is to investigate the influence of climate change in the Arctic on fire occurrence and fire effects in the tundra ecoregions of North America (NA). In particular, if fire increases in landscapes where fire is neither currently nor historically of great importance, what impacts will this have on the ecosystem services? Specific objectives of the proposed project are driven by the following two hypotheses: A: Climate change in the north is causing a fundamental change in fire regime in tundra ecosystems marked by fires of larger size and duration than previously occurred within the last century, leading to increased tundra area burned with higher burn severity. B: A change in fire regime will adversely influence ecosystem services, including surface hydrology, carbon sequestration, air quality, and wildlife resources, and enhance the feedback to the climate system through increases in surface albedo and release of greenhouse gas.

Our current understanding of arctic fire regimes for the recent and historic past (within the last 50 to 100 years) is poor. Current satellite-based methods for mapping fire at northern latitudes are focused on algorithms tuned to forested landscapes rather than treeless tundra types. Therefore, our current accounting of recent fire for the circumpolar arctic is not complete. Fire regime is also most likely changing, and will be changing quickly since fire is strongly driven by climate, and climate is changing fast in the arctic. Current ability to predict future fire occurrence in the face of climate change is maturing, and has the potential to improve understanding of the magnitude of fire change.
The 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire has presented an avenue to assess the effects of late season tundra fires on ecosystems. Large, extreme fire events such as the Anaktuvuk fire have the potential to become more numerous as fire season lengthens and climate conditions become more favorable to fire spread. We intend to connect with current research efforts at the Anaktuvuk site as well as studying fire locations across NA. By looking at fire across the region, the role of fire in shaping ecosystem conditions can be better understood if fire regime changes in Arctic NA.

For hypothesis A, we propose to improve maps of past fire using remote sensing-based resources (AVHRR, MODIS, and Landsat) using established techniques for fire mapping but tuned to detect fires in treeless, Arctic landscapes. Surface conditions following fire will be assessed in the field at the Anaktuvuk River site, via literature review, personal experience of the study team, and from remote sensing. Burn severity will be investigated as a driver of post-fire site dynamics and a comprehensive review of methods to assess severity in tundra sites will be made. We will use the acquired knowledge to drive a fire occurrence model fine-tuned to ecosystem specifics of Arctic NA.. We also plan to apply existing climate models within a framework of fire occurrence modeling to develop future fire occurrence scenarios.

To address hypothesis B, the fire regime information for the past into the future will be used to learn the possible implications of climate change-induced fire regime change. Influences of particular interest are related to impacts on systems specifically vulnerable to climate change and/or disturbance. The factors we will investigate are: 1) changes to surface hydrology, which influences vegetation regrowth; 2) implications for carbon cycling and sequestration, including the immediate release of pyrogenic carbon; 3) influences on energy balance, both the release of radiatively important CO2, CH4, and aerosols, and changes to surface albedo; and 4) impacts to wildlife land use, such as caribou forage conditions.

Project PI: Nancy French/Michigan Tech University

Michigan Tech Research Institute 3600 Green Court, Ste 100 Ann Arbor MI 48105 USA

Phone: (734) 913-6844



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Started: Sep 02, 2010

Last Activity: Feb 09, 2011


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