Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line

Date:
February 20, 2011
Source:
Michigan Technological University
Summary:
Alaskan forests used to be important players in Mother Nature's game plan for regulating carbon dioxide levels in the air. It's elementary earth science: Trees take up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. But now, American and Canadian researchers report that climate change is causing wildfires to burn larger swaths of Alaskan trees and to char the groundcover more severely, turning the black spruce forests of Alaska from repositories of carbon to generators of it. And the more carbon dioxide they release, the greater impact that may have in turn on future climate change.

Alaskan forest fires are turning black spruce forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources.
Credit: Michigan Tech

Alaskan forests used to be important players in Mother Nature's game plan for regulating carbon dioxide levels in the air. It's elementary earth science: Trees take up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.

But now, American and Canadian researchers report that climate change is causing wildfires to burn larger swaths of Alaskan trees and to char the groundcover more severely, turning the black spruce forests of Alaska from repositories of carbon to generators of it. And the more carbon dioxide they release, the greater impact that may have in turn on future climate change.

"Since the proliferation of black spruce, Alaskan soils have acted as huge carbon sinks," says Evan Kane, a research assistant professor in Michigan Technological University's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. "But with more frequent and more extensive burning in recent decades, these forests now lose more carbon in any fire event than they have historically been able to take up between fires."

Kane is co-author on a paper published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience. Lead author on the research study titled "Recent Acceleration of Biomass Burning and Carbon Losses in Alaskan Forests and Peatlands" is Merritt R. Turetsky of the University of Guelph, Ontario.

The overall impact of burning northern forests depends on both the frequency and severity of the fires, the researchers note. A majority of the carbon in these forests is stored in the layers of moss, peat and leaf litter that cover the ground, and those are the layers most likely to burn in forest fires.

This burning not only releases carbon emissions, but the loss of that ground layer affects a number of natural processes, such as regulation of soil climate, maintenance of permafrost and the kinds of trees that can grow back. The new forest types likely to establish after repeated severe fires act as a much weaker carbon sink than black spruce forests.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan Technological University. The original article was written by Jennifer Donovan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Merritt R. Turetsky, Evan S. Kane, Jennifer W. Harden, Roger D. Ottmar, Kristen L. Manies, Elizabeth Hoy, Eric S. Kasischke. Recent acceleration of biomass burning and carbon losses in Alaskan forests and peatlands. Nature Geoscience, 2010; 4 (1): 27 DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1027

Cite This Page:

Michigan Technological University. "Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218221921.htm>.
Michigan Technological University. (2011, February 20). Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218221921.htm
Michigan Technological University. "Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218221921.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) 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:
from the past week

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