Featuring: Michelle Mack, Associate Professor, University of Florida, Department of Biology

A predicted consequence of climate warming in the Arctic is an increase in the frequency, intensity and size of wildfires. Because Arctic tundra and boreal forests store globally important stocks of carbon in plants and soil, there has been considerable interest in understanding the effects of changing fire regimes on the carbon balance of these ecosystems. Fire rapidly releases carbon stored in plants and soil to the atmosphere, particularly if it burns deeply into organic soils characteristic of Arctic ecosystems. Over longer timescales, changes in organic soils can alter controls over ecosystem carbon dynamics by influencing plant species composition, nutrient availability, and the integrity of permafrost—permanently frozen soil. In this talk, I will explore two aspects of changing fire regimes in Arctic ecosystems: increasing fire severity in the boreal forests of Interior Alaska, where fire has been part of the historic disturbance regime, and unprecedented fire in the Arctic tundra of Alaska’s North Slope, where fire has been largely absent since the early Holocene. For these two biomes, I will compare patterns of burning and discuss the consequences of intensifying fire regimes for carbon cycling feedbacks to climate.

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