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M. P. Calef, A. D. McGuire, and F. S. Chapin III

Abstract

Boreal ecosystems in Alaska are responding to climate change in many ways, including changes in the fire regime. While large-scale wildfires are an essential part of the boreal forest ecosystem, humans are changing fire regimes through ignition and suppression. The authors analyzed the impact humans have on fire ignitions and relative area burned with distance into the forest from human access points such as settlements, highways, and major rivers in Alaska from 1988 to 2005. Additionally, a fire prediction model was created to identify drivers for lightning fires in the boreal forest. Human presence increases the number of ignitions near settlements, roads, and rivers and appears to reduce the area burned within 30–40 km of villages and rivers. In contrast to fires near roads and rivers, human presence may somewhat increase the area burned within 30–40 km of highways. The fire prediction model indicated that the probability of fire increases as distance from human settlements increases. In contrast, the model indicated that the probability of fire decreases as distance from roads increases and that the probability of fire in relation to distance from rivers depends on the year of analysis. While the ecological consequences of these human impacts are still unclear, this research shows that human influences on fire regime clearly affect the pattern of fire within 40 km of settlements, which is an area that represents 31% of interior Alaska. Future research should focus on more completely understanding the role of human presence in the suppression of wildfires in interior Alaska.

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M. P. Calef, A. Varvak, A. D. McGuire, F. S. Chapin III, and K. B. Reinhold

Abstract

The Alaskan boreal forest is characterized by frequent extensive wildfires whose spatial extent has been mapped for the past 70 years. Simple predictions based on this record indicate that area burned will increase as a response to climate warming in Alaska. However, two additional factors have affected the area burned in this time record: the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) switched from cool and moist to warm and dry in the late 1970s and the Alaska Fire Service instituted a fire suppression policy in the late 1980s. In this paper a geographic information system (GIS) is used in combination with statistical analyses to reevaluate the changes in area burned through time in Alaska considering both the influence of the PDO and fire management. The authors found that the area burned has increased since the PDO switch and that fire management drastically decreased the area burned in highly suppressed zones. However, the temporal analysis of this study shows that the area burned is increasing more rapidly in suppressed zones than in the unsuppressed zone since the late 1980s. These results indicate that fire policies as well as regional climate patterns are important as large-scale controls on fires over time and across the Alaskan boreal forest.

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J. S. Kimball, M. Zhao, A. D. McGuire, F. A. Heinsch, J. Clein, M. Calef, W. M. Jolly, S. Kang, S. E. Euskirchen, K. C. McDonald, and S. W. Running

Abstract

Northern ecosystems contain much of the global reservoir of terrestrial carbon that is potentially reactive in the context of near-term climate change. Annual variability and recent trends in vegetation productivity across Alaska and northwest Canada were assessed using a satellite remote sensing–based production efficiency model and prognostic simulations of the terrestrial carbon cycle from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM) and BIOME–BGC (BioGeoChemical Cycles) model. Evidence of a small, but widespread, positive trend in vegetation gross and net primary production (GPP and NPP) is found for the region from 1982 to 2000, coinciding with summer warming of more than 1.8°C and subsequent relaxation of cold temperature constraints to plant growth. Prognostic model simulation results were generally consistent with the remote sensing record and also indicated that an increase in soil decomposition and plant-available nitrogen with regional warming was partially responsible for the positive productivity response. Despite a positive trend in litter inputs to the soil organic carbon pool, the model results showed evidence of a decline in less labile soil organic carbon, which represents approximately 75% of total carbon storage for the region. These results indicate that the regional carbon cycle may accelerate under a warming climate by increasing the fraction of total carbon storage in vegetation biomass and more rapid turnover of the terrestrial carbon reservoir.

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A. D. McGuire, J. E. Walsh, J. S. Kimball, J. S. Clein, S. E. Euskirchen, S. Drobot, U. C. Herzfeld, J. Maslanik, R. B. Lammers, M. A. Rawlins, C. J. Vorosmarty, T. S. Rupp, W. Wu, and M. Calef

Abstract

The primary goal of the Western Arctic Linkage Experiment (WALE) was to better understand uncertainties of simulated hydrologic and ecosystem dynamics of the western Arctic in the context of 1) uncertainties in the data available to drive the models and 2) different approaches to simulating regional hydrology and ecosystem dynamics. Analyses of datasets on climate available for driving hydrologic and ecosystem models within the western Arctic during the late twentieth century indicate that there are substantial differences among the mean states of datasets for temperature, precipitation, vapor pressure, and radiation variables. Among the studies that examined temporal trends among the alternative climate datasets, there is not much consensus on trends among the datasets. In contrast, monthly and interannual variations of some variables showed some correlation across the datasets. The application of hydrology models driven by alternative climate drivers revealed that the simulation of regional hydrology was sensitive to precipitation and water vapor differences among the driving datasets and that accurate simulation of regional water balance is limited by biases in the forcing data. Satellite-based analyses for the region indicate that vegetation productivity of the region increased during the last two decades of the twentieth century because of earlier spring thaw, and the temporal variability of vegetation productivity simulated by different models from 1980 to 2000 was generally consistent with estimates based on the satellite record for applications driven with alternative climate datasets. However, the magnitude of the fluxes differed by as much as a factor of 2.5 among applications driven with different climate data, and spatial patterns of temporal trends in carbon dynamics were quite different among simulations. Finally, the study identified that the simulation of fire by ecosystem models is particularly sensitive to alternative climate datasets, with little or no fire simulated for some datasets. The results of WALE identify the importance of conducting retrospective analyses prior to coupling hydrology and ecosystem models with climate system models. For applications of hydrology and ecosystem models driven by projections of future climate, the authors recommend a coupling strategy in which future changes from climate model simulations are superimposed on the present mean climate of the most reliable datasets of historical climate.

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