The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just ~15 official air quality monitoring sites around the immense area of Alaska to monitor air pollutants that can affect human health. Wildfire smoke, for example, produced about 60,000 tons of PM2.5 in 2018 (400,000 acres were burned –just a moderate fire season for Alaska!) If data from lower quality private and academic air sensors (called “Purple Air”) could also be used, we could add an additional 100 monitoring sites to better understand and forecast air quality. NASA ABoVE scientists Allison Baer and Tatiana Loboda from the University of Maryland compared EPA and Purple Air sensor data and came up with calibrations that correlate extremely well (coded T&RH—see example graphic below). You can view their Interactive Poster at the 6th ABoVE Science Team meeting—this week (Jun 1-4): https://astm6-agu.ipostersessions.com/default.aspx?s=09-98-87-A0-E6-1A-FA-E4-79-58-CF-F8-B6-54-4B-79
Findings from Alberta’s Ft.McMurray Fire
Alaskans were paying close attention in 2016 when a spring firestorm called Horse River burned over a Fairbanks-sized Alberta town resulting in unprecedented evacuation of 90,000 people with insurable losses over $3.77 billion so far. The disaster even had a negative impact on Canada’s National GDP–at 1.5 million acres it was the 3rd largest fire in Canada’s history. What have we learned from this catastrophic fire and can we co-exist with fire? Fire researcher Mike Flannigan, and Alberta’s fire science and prevention officer Cordy Tymstra teamed up on an important webinar for the AFSC last fall (watch it on our AFSC Vimeo Channel). Mike gave us a lot of additional insights into fire ecology: like the number of fires in Canada has doubled since the 1970’s, and spring fires are becoming increasingly important. Cordy provided intimate “behind-the-scenes” looks into decision-making and the challenges faced by fire managers. On May 5th, for example, the fire’s rate of spread was estimated at 2.86 km/hr (0.8 m/sec). The pyrocumulus clouds that developed deposited firebrands up to 35 km ahead of the main fire. Half of the discussion focused on recommendations from the after-action review: for example, Alberta moved their official fire season start up to March 1. They are going to review Incident Commander qualifications for WUI incidents and work on more ICS training for municipal cooperators. And they are going to ramp up their provincial FireSmart program. These are just a few. Watch the presentation: it will be an hour well-spent.
Fire’s Role in a Broadleaf Future for Alaska?
As climate warming brings more wildfire to the North, scientists and citizens wonder how the landscape will be transformed. Will forests continue their 2000’s-era trend toward less spruce and more hardwoods, catalyzed by larger fires and more frequent burning? If so, that might slow down the trend for larger and more intense fires. However, will hotter summers with more effective drying lead to increased fire re-entry into the early successional hardwoods, making them less strategic barriers for fire protection? A research team modeling the former question just unveiled an interactive web tool to model forest changes under various future climate scenarios (Feb. 1 webinar recording available HERE). With the new web tool, funded by JFSP, Paul Duffy and Courtney Schultz will be working with fire managers in Alaska to look at fire occurrence and cost in the future. Try it for yourself at http://uasnap.shinyapps.io/jfsp-v10/
As for the second question–will it be harder for hardwoods to resist fire–a recent paper in Ecosphere (Barrett et al. 2016) is one of the first published studies to look for an answer. AFSC highlights that work with a Research Brief this month: A Deeper Look at Drivers of Fire Activity, Re-burns, and Unburned Patches in Alaska’s Boreal Forest. Check out all our Research Briefs in our web Library.
Citation: Barrett, K, T. Loboda, AD McGuire, H. Genet, E. Hoy, and E. Kasischke. 2016. Static and dynamic controls on fire activity at moderate spatial and temporal scales in the Alaskan boreal forest. Ecosphere 7(11):e01572. 10.1002/ecs2.1572
Fire and Carbon Stores: the Rest of the Story
Estimates of carbon released from combustion of vegetation and organic soil during wildfires have improved dramatically over the past decade. Biomass inventory, fire effects and fire severity studies have contributed more accurate data to improve these models. (See Ottmar 2007, Brendan Rogers webinar 2015) However, figuring out the net effect of all the various effects of fire, the recovery phase and warming climate on the carbon stored in Alaska’s forests and tundra is a lot more challenging! You’d have to consider changes in burn extent and/or severity, increases in plant productivity in recovering burns, changes in species composition and what that means for productivity, changes in permafrost distribution and soil C decomposition, methane emissions and carbon fluxes in lake systems and wetlands–etc.! A team lead by Dr. Dave McGuire at UAF has taken on this modeling challenge by applying their Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) which includes modules for fire, permafrost, and carbon cycling. Dave recently presented an overview of their findings at an IARPC-WCT/AFSC joint webinar (available HERE). In a nutshell, they found: 1) tundra holds 2x the carbon that boreal forest does in the same area 2) there has been a net C loss from boreal land area of about 8 Tg/yr over the last 60 years, primarily driven by large fires during the 2000’s 3) arctic tundra and SE Alaska still act as C sinks, compensating for these losses so that overall, Alaska sequesters about 3.7 Tg/yr, 4) increases in fire extent predicted with with warming climate will release even more C, but longer growing seasons and increased plant growth (as much as 8-19% increased productivity throughout the remainder of this century) with warmer climate and higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are estimated to offset these losses under most of the climate projection scenarios. Since this nutshell summary glosses over a lot, you should take a look at the presentation and the SNAP projects page with information on scenarios and the individual models used.
Presentations available from the CFFDRS Summit in Fairbanks!
Whether you were there or missed it, the presentations and recorded videos from the 2014 Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System Summit held in Fairbanks October 28-30th are worth reviewing. 2014. The workshop was a great opportunity to discuss fire risk indices and fire behavior applications in Alaska and to hear how fire managers in Canada, the Great Lakes States and around the world are using the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System. There were over 50 managers and scientists in attendance.
Presentation on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at UAF–Now Available!
The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration is a research center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for small, unmanned aircraft systems–UAVs, often referred to as “drones”– providing integration of unique payloads and supporting pathfinder missions within government and science communities–including the Fire Management Community. ACUASI has 11 different aircraft with more coming all the time. Deputy Director Ro Bailey gave a presentation at the Interagency Dispatchers workshop March 26, 2014 and allowed us to post her slides for those who weren’t at the meeting. Find the presentation on Archive of Events & Webinars or link to the presentation page HERE.
Upcoming webinar: Effect of Tundra Fires on Post-fire Vegetation
Teresa Hollingsworth, USFS and Amy Breen, UAF-SNAP
Apr 28, 2014 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm AK time. Register.
https://akfireconsortium.uaf.edu >> Events
Amy and Teresa will summarize the history of tundra fires in Alaska and share preliminary results of their research to characterize post-fire plant communities, quantify fuel accumulation, and model tundra fire regimes and vegetation dynamics.
Find the recorded webinar <HERE>.
Webinar about Black Carbon in the Atmosphere
National experts will be giving a talk to bring you up to speed on this issue if you’d like to know more about sources of soot in the atmosphere (including wildfire) and whether pollution control efforts are having any effect. Speakers include: In-situ ground sensing: Patricia Quinn (NOAA); Satellite remote sensing: Ralph Kahn (NASA); and Transport modeling: Mark Jacobson (Stanford).
Date: April 18, 2014 Time: 3:00-4:30 EDT (that’s 11:00-12:30 Alaska Daylight time) Register at IARPC Collaboration website.
Find the recorded webinar <HERE>
The Atmosphere Collaboration Team of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) is hosting the second of two webinars on black carbon which are open to the community. The intent of the second webinar is to share information about current science questions and activities related to Arctic black carbon. Experts will be on hand to share information and answer questions in an effort to inform the Atmosphere Collaboration Team of IARPC of possible future interagency activities related to Arctic black carbon.
Black carbon is “the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing.” When BC is deposited on snow and ice, it darkens an otherwise bright surface. The darker surface may enhance the absorption of solar radiation resulting in an acceleration of snow and ice melting. In addition, BC particles suspended in the atmosphere absorb solar radiation and heat the surrounding air. Atmospheric BC can also alter cloud properties leading to changes in cloud amount and precipitation. Black carbon has multiple sources including domestic combustion for heating and cooking, diesel combustion related to transportation, fossil fuel and biofuel combustion for power generation, agricultural burning, and wildfires. Identification of the sources and types of black carbon (both the geographical region of the source and the combustion process) is necessary for effectively mitigating its climate impacts. In addition, measurements of black carbon are required to verify whether implemented mitigation strategies that target BC emissions from certain sources are actually leading to reductions in BC concentrations in the Arctic atmosphere and surface. In 2013, NOAA’s Arctic Report Card added a black carbon assessment to the Atmosphere Section; the primary conclusions of the assessment are that (1) the average equivalent black carbon concentrations in 2012 at locations Alert (Nunavut, Canada), Barrow (Alaska, USA) and Ny-Alesund (Svalbard, Norway) were similar to average EBC concentrations during the last decade and (2) equivalent black carbon has declined by as much as 55% during the 23 year record at Alert and Barrow (Sharma et al. 2013).
April 8th Science for Lunch: Shortened Fire Return Intervals in Alaska
Jennifer Barnes, NPS Regional Fire Ecologist
Tuesday April 8th, 12:00 pm AK time. Contact NPS Stacia Backensto for information: 907-455-0669.
Jennifer will discuss the results of recent NPS studies on climate change impacts to boreal forest and tundra fire regimes.
Find the recording <HERE>.
Webinar Recording Available– 2013 Alaska Fire Modeling Lessons Learned
Lisa Saperstein, USFWS, Brian Sorbel, NPS, and Robert Ziel, DOF
Wed, March 5, 10:00 am. Visit our Vimeo page to view all our recorded webinars or find the recording <HERE>.
Organized by the Alaska Fire Modeling and Analysis Committee, this webinar employed an expert panel to look back at some of the modeling work that occurred in 2013, specifically focused on lessons learned that can be carried forward into 2014. Some important points covered–what’s the difference between fire modeling in FSPro vs. Canadian BEHAVE system; how to tweak landscape cover and crown fire models to get reasonable results; using auxiliary information like Google Earth, Landsat imagery, and MODIS hotspots to inform your run. Don’t forget, there is a manual–available on the FMAC page above!: FSPro Analysis in Alaska: A Users Guide
(Image: 7 day fire spread probability of Lime Hills fire, June 24, 2013, and June 30 perimeter (black line). Courtesy Lisa Saperstein.)