Navigation Links
Wildfire drives carbon levels in northern forests
Date:10/31/2007

MADISON - Far removed from streams of gas-thirsty cars and pollution-belching factories lies another key player in global climate change. Circling the northern hemisphere, the conifer-dominated boreal forests - one of the largest ecosystems on earth - act as a vast natural regulator of atmospheric carbon levels.

Forest ecologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are studying how environmental factors such as forest fires and climate influence carbon levels in this forest system. Their most recent findings, reported in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Nature, offer insight into the balance of carbon uptake and release that contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels worldwide.

Second in size among forests only to the tropical rainforests, the boreal forests form a massive green band spanning the higher latitudes of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, China, and Scandinavia. Their sheer size, coupled with the fact that they are expected to experience the greatest warming of any forest biome as global temperatures rise, means that climate-related changes here are likely to resonate well beyond the forest boundaries, says S. Tom Gower, UW-Madison professor of forest ecology and management and primary investigator of the project.

In the new study, Gower and his colleagues used a computer model to simulate the carbon balance of one million square kilometers of the Canadian forest over the past 60 years, to determine the relative impacts of climate and disturbance by wildfire.

The group found that the effects of carbon dioxide and climate - temperature and precipitation - varied from year to year but generally balanced out over time and area. Instead, forest fires during the 60-year period had the greatest direct impact on carbon emissions from the system.

However, "because fire frequency and fire intensity are directly controlled by climate change, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be focusing on climate change," Gower says. "Climate change is what's causing the fire changes. They're very tightly coupled systems."

The researchers believe that fires shift the carbon balance in multiple ways. Burning organic matter quickly releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. After a fire, loss of the forest canopy can allow more sun to reach and warm the ground, which may speed decomposition and carbon dioxide emission from the soil. If the soil warms enough to melt underlying permafrost, even more stored carbon may be unleashed.

A trend toward hotter and drier conditions is likely to exacerbate the effects of fire by increasing the frequency, intensity, and size of burns. "All it takes is a low snowpack year and a dry summer," Gower says. "With a few lightning strikes, it's a tinderbox."

Historically, scientists believe the boreal forest has acted as a carbon sink, absorbing more atmospheric carbon dioxide than it releases, Gower says. Their model now suggests that, over recent decades, the forest has become a smaller sink and may actually be shifting toward becoming a carbon source.

"The soil is the major source, the plants are the major sink, and how those two interplay over the life of a stand really determines whether the boreal forest is a sink or a source of carbon," he says.

Though the model is not currently designed to forecast future conditions, Gower says, "Based on our current understanding, fire was a more important driver (of the carbon balance) than climate was in the last 50 years. But if carbon dioxide concentration really doubles in the next 50 years and the temperature increases 4 to 8 degrees Celsius, all bets may be off."


'/>"/>

Contact: S. Tom Gower
stgower@wisc.edu
608-262-0532
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. NCAR analysis shows widespread pollution from 2004 wildfires
2. Unchecked DNA replication drives earliest steps toward cancer
3. Climate change drives widespread amphibian extinctions
4. Habitat microstructure drives salamander metamorphosis
5. Mindless autopilot drives people to underestimate food decisions
6. Buildup of damaged DNA in cells drives aging
7. A genetic gang of 4 drives spread of breast cancer
8. Deep sea algae connect ancient climate, carbon dioxide and vegetation
9. Storing carbon to combat global warming may cause other environmental problems, study suggests
10. Scientific issues associated with carbon-neutral energy sources such as cellulosic ethanol
11. Motorola researchers develop selective sensors based on carbon nanotubes
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/16/2016)... June 16, 2016 The ... expected to reach USD 1.83 billion by 2024, ... Research, Inc. Technological proliferation and increasing demand in ... expected to drive the market growth. ... The development of advanced multimodal techniques for ...
(Date:6/3/2016)... 2016 Das DOTM ... Nepal hat ein 44 Millionen ... Kennzeichen, einschließlich Personalisierung, Registrierung und IT-Infrastruktur, an ... und Implementierung von Identitätsmanagementlösungen. Zahlreiche renommierte internationale ... teilgenommen, aber Decatur wurde als konformste und ...
(Date:5/24/2016)... facilitates superior patient care by providing unparalleled technology to leaders of the medical imaging ... product recently added to the range of products distributed by Ampronix. Photo ... ... ... News ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona combed medical ... mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new article on the Surviving Mesothelioma ... in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma patients that can help point ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... is pleased to announce the launch of their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into Target ... over 35 years, is proud to add Target to its list of well-respected ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - FACIT has announced ... biotechnology company, Propellon Therapeutics Inc. ("Propellon" ... commercialization of a portfolio of first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors ... such as WDR5 represent an exciting class of ... precision medicine for cancer patients. Substantial advances have ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 Houston ... with the Cy-Fair Sports Association to serve as ... the agreement, Houston Methodist Willowbrook will provide sponsorship ... and connectivity with association coaches, volunteers, athletes and ... with the Cy-Fair Sports Association and to bring ...
Breaking Biology Technology: