Tundra burning in 2007 – Did sea ice retreat matter?

The goal of this study was to assess the importance of the 2007 sea ice retreat for hydrologic conditions on the Alaskan North Slope, and how this may have influenced the outbreak of tundra fires in this region. This study concentrates on two years, 2007 and 1996, with different arctic sea ice conditions and tundra fire activity. The year of 2007 is characterized by a low summer sea ice extent (second lowest) and high tundra fire activity, while 1996 had high sea ice extent, and few tundra fires. Atmospheric lateral boundary forcing from the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis drove the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model, along with varying sea ice surface forcing designed to delineate the role of sea ice. WRF runs successfully reproduced the differences between 1996 and 2007. Surprisingly, replacing sea ice conditions in 1996 run by those from 2007 and vice versa (2007 run with 1996 sea ice) did not change the overall picture. The atmospheric circulation in August of 1996 included a significant low-pressure system over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. However, in 2007, a high-pressure system dominated the circulation over the Beaufort Sea. It is argued that this difference in large-scale patterns, rather than retreat of sea ice, was responsible for anomalously dry and warm atmospheric conditions over the North Slope in summer and autumn 2007, suitable for high tundra fire activity. Circulation in 2012 is contrasted with that in 2007 to further stress its importance for local weather on the North Slope.
Alexeev, V.E., E.S. Euskirchen, J.E. Cherry, and R.E. Busey
Polar Science