Fire in Northern Alaska: Effect of a changing disturbance regime on a Regional Macrosystem

  • Funded By: National Science Foundation
  • ECI Investigators: Adrian Rocha
  • Partners: Marine Biological Laboratory

Fire in Northern Alaska: Effect of a changing disturbance regime on a Regional Macrosystem

This project develops a better understanding of the short-term and long-term effects of fire on the Arctic tundra.  Over the past 50 years, scientists observed increased temperatures in Northern Alaska together with an increase in the frequency of wildfires, with over half of the fire activity on the North Slope in the past 60 years occurring since 2000.  Fires have the potential to alter carbon and energy balances by releasing carbon into the atmosphere through combustion, reducing carbon sequestration through vegetation and soil changes, and influencing climate by darkening the surface and allowing more solar energy to be absorbed.

The team, which includes Notre Dame and Marine Biological Laboratory researchers, combines field measurements made at burn sites of different age on the North Slope and Seward Peninsula of Alaska. These measurements along with recent and historical satellite and aircraft remotely sensed imagery are used to produce predictive models of how fires influence carbon and energy cycling over time across the Arctic.

The models developed in this project can be used to inform future management decisions by predicting the impact of future changes in the frequency of fires on ecosystem services in the Arctic.  It will reveal processes and interactions that are relevant not only to the global human population as related to climate change, but also to the local Native American populations that depend on the North Slope landscape to sustain their subsistence lifestyles.

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