Navigation Links
Scientists report dramatic carbon loss from massive Arctic wildfire

In a study published in this week's issue of Nature, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) senior scientist Gauis Shaver and his colleagues, including lead author Michelle Mack of the University of Florida, describe the dramatic impacts of a massive Arctic wildfire on carbon releases to the atmosphere. The 2007 blaze on the North Slope of the Alaska's Brooks Mountain Range released 20 times more carbon to the atmosphere than what is annually lost from undisturbed tundra.

As wildfires increase in frequency and size along Alaska's North Slope, the team contends the disturbances may release large amounts of the greenhouse gas CO2 to the atmosphere and accelerate the transformation of the frozen, treeless tundra of today into a different kind of ecosystem less capable of storing carbon. Together, the impacts could have profound implications on atmospheric carbon and climate.

Arctic tundra landscapes store huge amounts of carbon in cool, wet soils that are insulated by a layer of permanently frozen ground, or permafrost. Fire has been almost nonexistent in Alaska's North Slope for thousands of years and the effect of fires on the carbon balance of tundra ecosystems is largely unknown. However, with warming temperatures over the past half-century, the climate in the region is in transition, spurring more thunderstorms, lightning, and wildfires.

In 2007 the Anaktuvuk River fire ravaged a 40-by-10 mile swath of tundra about 24 miles north of Toolik Field Station, where Shaver is the principal investigator of the NSF's Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research project. The blaze was the largest ever recorded in the region.

While the Anaktuvuk River fire scorched only upper soil layers that are about 50 years old, it caused the release of more than two million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. This amount is similar in magnitude to the annual carbon sink for the entire Arctic tundra biome averaged over the last quarter of the twentieth century. According to Shaver and his colleagues, an Arctic regularly disturbed by fire could mean massive releases of CO2 into the atmosphere, a decrease in carbon stocks on land, and a rapid impact on climate.

Shaver has been studying the Arctic tundra since the mid-1970s, and he knows how to look for gradual shifts in a landscape that is changing, but very slowly. Large disturbances such as firewhich leave the land open to rapid re-growthhave been rare. As the tundra rebounds from the Anaktuvuk River fire, Shaver and his colleagues are watching closely to see if the fire will nudge a major transformation of the North Slope groundcover that is already slowly underway.

More shrubs are expected to appear in the Arctic landscape as the climate warms, a trend that may be accelerated by the advent of fires. "Satellites tell us there has clearly been a greening of the Arctic over the past 30 years," Shaver says. Many observations point to a warmer landscape that will be dominated by shrubs, rather than the grasses and mosses of today. Some scientists forecast that large parts of the Arctic tundra will eventually become forest. "A key question is whether the conditions on these burn sites are more favorable for the establishment of new seeds, new species," Shaver says.

Moreover, the burn, because it is darker, absorbs more solar radiation than undisturbed land. "You have much higher rates of permafrost thawing, and depth of thaw, on the burn," Shaver says. All of these immediate consequences of the Anaktuvuk River fire reinforce the effects of a warming climate on the Arctic tundra. And the scientists don't yet know if the land can recover the carbon and energy balance of its pre-burn state, or if they are looking at a "new normal," Shaver says.


Contact: Diana Kenney
Marine Biological Laboratory

Related biology news :

1. Jefferson scientists deliver toxic genes to effectively kill pancreatic cancer cells
2. Scientists identify novel inhibitor of human microRNA
3. Argonne scientists peer into heart of compound that may detect chemical, biological weapons
4. MU scientists go green with gold, distribute environmentally friendly nanoparticles
5. Scientists identify gene that may contribute to improved rice yield
6. Scientists discover why a mothers high-fat diet contributes to obesity in her children
7. MU scientists see how HIV matures into an infection
8. Earth scientists keep an eye on Texas
9. Thinking it through: Scientists call for policy to guide biofuels industry toward sustainability
10. Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells
11. Scientists Find new migratory patterns for Mediterranean and Western Atlantic bluefin tuna
Post Your Comments:
(Date:5/9/2016)... UAE, May 9, 2016 Elevay ... comes to expanding freedom for high net worth professionals ... in today,s globally connected world, there is still no ... could ever duplicate sealing your deal with a firm ... passports by taking advantage of citizenship via investment programs ...
(Date:4/26/2016)... , April 27, 2016 ... "Global Multi-modal Biometrics Market 2016-2020"  report to their ... , The analysts forecast the global ... of 15.49% during the period 2016-2020.  ... of sectors such as the healthcare, BFSI, transportation, ...
(Date:4/13/2016)... April 13, 2016  IMPOWER physicians supporting Medicaid patients ... a new clinical standard in telehealth thanks to a ... the higi platform, IMPOWER patients can routinely track key ... body mass index, and, when they opt in, share ... visit to a local retail location at no cost. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... 27, 2016  Alex,s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), a ... will open a state-of-the-art bioinformatics lab, using ,big data, ... announcement comes as Liz Scott , co-executive director ... Moonshot Summit in Washington, D.C. , ... participant and advocate of pediatric cancer research and awareness. ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... June 27, 2016  Global demand for enzymes ... through 2020 to $7.2 billion.  This market includes ... cleaning products, biofuel production, animal feed, and other ... and biocatalysts). Food and beverages will remain the ... increasing consumption of products containing enzymes in developing ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... GUELPH, ON , June 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - BIOREM ... it has been advised by its major shareholders, Clean ... LP, United States based venture ... common shares of Biorem (on a fully diluted, as ... for the disposition of their entire equity holdings in ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... 2016  Sequenom, Inc. (NASDAQ: SQNM ), ... through the development of innovative products and services, announced ... United States denied its petition to review ... Sequenom,s U.S. Patent No. 6,258,540 (",540 Patent") are not ... the Supreme Court,s Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories ...
Breaking Biology Technology: