Ecosystem Studies & Management
Fire and Carbon Sequestration in Boreal North America
Senior Scientist Scott Goetz setting up a data logger in an aspen regrowth stand in central Alaska.
One focus for Woods Hole Research Center scientists studying boreal North America explores how carbon sequestration rates following fire vary across the entire boreal forest region on an inter-annual basis. This work requires accurate measurements of carbon fluxes at fine spatial and temporal scales over large areas.
Accounting for every source and sink of carbon within the boreal ecosystem across the spatial extent necessary for this study would require an unrealistic number of field measurements. Instead, WHRC scientists employ a number of approaches that emphasize the use of satellite observations of the land surface and the inference of ecological variables such as tree cover, leaf area index (LAI), the fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (FPAR), and other indices of canopy light harvesting that drive the photosynthetic process. Those data sets and derived maps are also used to drive models of carbon exchange, which are subsequently validated by a suite of ground based field measurements.
An IKONOS image (4m resolution) depicting a portion of the 1999 burn. Burned areas are darker due to their spectal characteristics.
Center scientists are currently conducting field and satellite remote sensing studies in the Delta Junction / Upper Tanana River Valley of interior Alaska, particularly in a chronosequence of fires from 1956, 1987, 1994, and 1999. The remote sensing studies use a variety of satellite systems (AVHRR, Landsat, IKONOS, and MODIS) to monitor the effects of fire. Field studies focus on estimating patterns of biomass burning during fire, as well as the influence of fire on patterns of soil moisture, temperature, and forest recovery. Measurements in the Delta region also include net CO2, water and energy fluxes using eddy covariance from towers deployed at several locations.
During a research trip to Alaska in Summer 2009, a documentary crew from the American Museum of Natural History followed Senior Scientist Scott Goetz and colleagues to learn more about boreal forest study sites where Dr. Goetz has been monitoring regrowth trends following fire disturbance. This video is the result of that trip.