Modeling the effect of wildfire on permafrost vulnerability, vegetation composition and carbon balance in Alaskan boreal forest

Poster presented by Hélène Genet and co-authors at the 2013 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Abstract: Wildfires are one of the main disturbances in high latitude ecosystems and have important consequences for the large stocks of carbon stored in permafrost soils. Fire affects carbon balance directly by burning vegetation and surface organic material and indirectly by influencing post-fire vegetation composition and soil thermal and hydrological regimes. Recent developments of ecosystem models allow a better representation of the effects of fire on organic soil dynamics and the soil environment, but there is a need to better integrate post-fire vegetation succession in these models. Post-fire vegetation regeneration is sensitive to fire consumption of soil organic layer horizons, where high severity burning promotes the establishment of deciduous broadleaf trees. In comparison to conifers, deciduous forests are less flammable, more productive, have higher nutrient turnover, and deeper permafrost. However, deciduous forests generally store less soil carbon than conifer forests. Therefore, the fire-induced shifts in vegetation composition have consequences for ecosystem carbon balance. In this study, we present the development of an ecosystem model that integrates post-fire succession with changes in the structure and function of organic soil horizons to better represent the relationship between fire severity and vegetation succession across the landscape. The model is then used to assess changes in the carbon balance at a 1km resolution, in response to changing fire regime across the landscape in Interior Alaska.