EpsCor Fire and Ice Team 2020 Research Updates

At their “All Hands” meeting in November a diverse array of researchers presented quick overviews of their findings the University of Alaska National Science Foundation-sponsored research project called EpsCor Fire & Ice.  The scope of projects—many guided by the participation of fire managers and other stakeholder groups in Alaska—was remarkable.  Below are a few sample highlights that will convince you to check out their slide deck summary from the meeting [HERE].

  • Alaska’s first ever study of wildfire smoke-related health outcomes (respiratory and cardiovascular) by Micah Hahn at UAA.  She used a database on emergency room visits in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Matsu (which collectively could account for 60% of Alaska’s population) during wildfire seasons 2015-2019.  The biggest correlative effect with smoke seemed to be asthma:  In Anchorage, for example, a 13% increase in ER visits was noted on days of elevated wildfire smoke (PM 2.5) exposure.  A paper with full results is expected to be out soon.
  • Remote sensing specialists in the Boreal Fires team (Smith, Bandola, Panda, Waigl) continue to make headway with using newly available multi-spetral remotely sensed imagery and high-tech computational processes to improve Alaska fire fuels maps (Figure, below).  Managers and fire modelers have repeatedly stressed that inaccurate mapping of fuels is one of the biggest limitations currently impeding better fire spread modeling.
  • Remote sensing products can also improve the quality of burn severity maps, even in WUI areas where suppression is still active (Schmidt).
  • Homeowner surveys in fire-impacted areas revealed how much risk homeowners thought they had prior to the fires and how they were directly impacted (Schmidt).
  • Why do some fire scars have great morel mushroom crops and others don’t?  That vexing question was tackled (Yamin-Pasternak) with input from lots of participating harvesters who also pronounced the fire season of 2020 as the longest ever! Hint: they also ranked recent fires around the state relative to their productivity—a result you’re going to want to examine.
  • Erik Schoen and Ben Meyer from the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology studied the effects of the 2019 Shovel Creek fire on juvenile salmon.  Although differences were found in water quality and food availability in burned vs. unburned reference areas, the growth rates of the fish were similar.
Comparing accuracy of LANDFIRE and AVIRIS fuels mapping (C. Smith, AHM Nov. 4, 2020).

Those highlights ought to convince you to spend a few minutes looking at the slide deck from the meeting, just to see more items from this amazing interdisciplinary collaboration of science and management!  Likely there’s a researcher looking for collaboration and input from you in your fire specialty, and Alaska Fire Science Consortium can help you make a connection.  Go to https://www.alaska.edu/epscor/publications-presentations-posters/  and look for the 2020 Alaska EPSCoR All Hands Meeting, Boreal Fires component.