Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Warming Climate May Cause Arctic Tundra To Burn

Date:
March 5, 2008
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
Research from ancient sediment cores indicates that a warming climate could make the world's arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought. The findings are important given the potential for tundra fires to release organic carbon -- which could add significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases already blamed for global warming.

Montana State University researcher Philip Higuera examines a lake sediment core (the long brown object in front of his knees) from Little Isacheluich Lake in the Noatak National Preserve in the western Brooks Range of Alaska in June 2007. The sediment sample is similar to those Higuera examined for his research into fire occurrence on the ancient tundra.
Credit: Melissa Chipman

Research from ancient sediment cores indicates that a warming climate could make the world's arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought. The findings are important given the potential for tundra fires to release organic carbon -- which could add significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases already blamed for global warming.

Related Articles


Montana State University post-doctoral researcher Philip Higuera is the lead author on the paper, which summarizes a portion of a four-year study funded by the National Science Foundation.

Higuera and his co-authors examined ancient sediments from four lakes in a remote region of Alaska in and around Gates of the Arctic National Park to determine what kind of vegetation existed in the area after the last ice age, 14,000 to 9,000 years ago. By looking at fossilized pollen grains in the sediment cores, Higuera and his co-authors determined that after the last ice age, the arctic tundra was very different from what it is now. Instead of being covered with grasses, herbs, and short shrubs, it was covered with vast expanses of tall birch shrubs.

Charcoal preserved in the sediment cores also showed evidence that those shrub expanses burned -- frequently.

"This was a surprise," Higuera said. "Modern tundra burns so infrequently that we don't really have a good idea of how often tundra can burn. Best estimates for the most flammable tundra regions are that it burns once every 250-plus years."

The ancient sediment cores showed the shrub tundra burned as frequently as modern boreal forests in Alaska -- every 140 years on average, but with some fires spaced only 30 years apart.

Higuera's research is important because other evidence indicates that as the climate has warmed in the past 50 to 100 years, shrubs have expanded across the world's tundra regions.

"There is evidence of increasing shrub biomass in modern tundra ecosystems, and we expect temperatures to continue to increase and overall moisture levels to decrease. Combine these two factors and it suggests a greater potential for fires," Higuera said. "The sediment cores indicate that it's happened before."

The world's high latitude tundra and boreal forest ecosystems contain roughly 30 percent of the planet's total soil carbon. Currently, much of the carbon is locked in permafrost. But a warming climate could cause the permafrost to melt and release its carbon stores into the atmosphere where it would contribute to the greenhouse effect.

"Vegetation change through an increase in shrub biomass and more frequent burning will change a great deal of the carbon cycle in these high latitudes," Higuera said. "We don't fully understand the implications, except that it's reasonable to expect that carbon that was previously locked up could enter the atmosphere."

The paper is the first in a series Higuera expects to publish from his field work. Future papers will examine how climate, vegetation, and fire regimes have interacted over the past 15,000 years in the region.

Higuera was assisted in his research by MSU undergraduate Alison Kennedy, who graduated in from Earth Sciences in 2007 and co-authors Linda Brubaker and Patricia Anderson from the University of Washington, Thomas Brown from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Feng Sheng Hu from the University of Illinois. A National Parks Ecological Research Fellow, Higuera works in the Paleoecology Lab led by MSU professor Cathy Whitlock.

Journal reference: Higuera PE, Brubaker LB, Anderson PM, Brown TA, Kennedy AT, et al (2008) Frequent Fires in Ancient Shrub Tundra: Implications of Paleorecords for Arctic Environmental Change. PLoS ONE 3(3): e0001744. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001744 http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0001744


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Warming Climate May Cause Arctic Tundra To Burn." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200902.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2008, March 5). Warming Climate May Cause Arctic Tundra To Burn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200902.htm
Public Library of Science. "Warming Climate May Cause Arctic Tundra To Burn." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200902.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

AP (Dec. 21, 2014) Officials have opened a new road on Hawaii's Big Island for drivers to take care of their daily needs if encroaching lava from Kilauea Volcano crosses a highway and cuts them off from the rest of the island. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

AP (Dec. 20, 2014) A scuba diving Santa Claus explored the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dive shop owner Spencer Slate makes the dive each year to help raise money for charity. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) US President Barack Obama says that construction of the Keystone pipeline would have 'very little impact' on US gas prices and believes there are 'more direct ways' to create construction jobs. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins