The face of a scientist: does that conjure an image of a certain gender, race, and age? Albert Einstein perhaps? Those stereotypes are changing: meet Dr. Yaping Chen–a rising star of science with a spectacular track record. The last 3 years she has come up with one mind-boggling revelation after another about how fire works in the Alaska tundra. After a MS degree in environmental engineering in China, Dr. Chen completed her PhD in the lab of the venerable Dr. Feng Sheng Hu at the University of Illinois. I first met her presenting a poster on the Nimrod Hill fire (Imuruk Lake, on the Seward Peninsula) at an American Geophysical Union meeting in 2019. The work was novel, ingenious, and suggestive of new ways to study fires with new computational and remote sensing tools. That was just the tip of the iceberg–or the thermokarst, if you will! Since then Dr. Chen has published numerous diverse research studies improving our understanding of dueling post-fire successional trajectories in tundra, improved burn severity mapping of legacy tundra fires, and fire regime effects on carbon balance. Her most recent paper outlines the role of tundra fire vs. climate warming in thawing permafrost in Alaska tundra statewide! If you’ve missed any of these important papers for your collection, links are included below. Now Dr. Chen is a post-doctoral researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, continuing her work on unraveling impacts of climate change. Thank you, Dr. Chen for all you’ve revealed to us in Alaska!
Fire hastens permafrost collapse in Arctic tundra: Short AAAS summary of Chen’s most recent paper>>>
- Thermokarst acceleration in Arctic tundra driven by climate change and fire disturbance. Chen, Yaping et al. 2021. One Earth 4, 1–12.
- Resilience and sensitivity of ecosystem carbon stocks to fire-regime change in Alaskan tundra. Chen, Yaping, et al. 2022. Science of The Total Environment 806, Part 4:151482.
- Chen, Yaping et al. 2021. Divergent shrub-cover responses driven by climate, wildfire, and permafrost interactions in Arctic tundra ecosystems. Global Change Biology 27(3):652-663.
- Chen, Yaping et al. 2020. A robust visible near-infrared index for fire severity mapping in Arctic tundra ecosystems. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 159:101-113. AFSC Fire Science Highlight HERE
Below: Graphical Abstract from Chen, et al. 2021 One Earth publication, illustrating the increase in thermokarst rates across arctic Alaska, and highlighting impact of fire in hastening thaw.