Characterization of Future Wildfire Risk in Alaska Using Soil Moisture and Evapotranspiration Modeling

Oct 2018 to Sep 2019

In Alaska, recent research has identified particular areas of the state where both a lack of soil moisture and warming temperatures increase the likelihood of wildfire.  While this is an important finding, this previous research did not take into account the important role that melting snow, ice, and frozen ground (permafrost) play in replenshing soil moisture in the spring and summer months.
This project will address this gap in the characterization of fire risk using the newly developed monthly water balance model (MWBM). The MWBM takes into account rain, snow, snowmelt, glacier ice melt, and the permafrost layer to better calculate soil moisture replenishment and the amount of moisture that is lost to the atmosphere (evapotranspiration). Using this model, researchers will be able to refine the boundaries of fire-prone areas in Alaska, based on which areas are prone to particularly high moisture deficit and summer temperatures. Maps will be created that identify which regions of the state currently have a high risk of wildfire, as well as which regions can expect to have an elevated risk of fire in the future to support adaptation planning. This research will also have broad applicability to other regions of the country facing uncertainty about future wildfire risk.
Understanding the impacts of climate on fire regimes is a key research priority of the Alaska Fire Science Consortium, an interagency group that represents represents multiple  federal, state, and educational organizations throughout Alaska and the Lower 48. Through close collaboration with this consortium, as well as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives in Alaska, local resource managers, water coalitions, Native Corporations, and other community stakeholders, researchers will ensure that their work provides timely and relevant science to support on-the-ground decision-making needs.