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Scientists report dramatic carbon loss from massive Arctic wildfire
Date:7/28/2011

e 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.


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Contact: Diana Kenney
dkenney@mbl.edu
508-289-7139
Marine Biological Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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