Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: Impacts of Climatic Change on the Boreal-Forest Fire Regimes of Alaska: Lessons from the Past and Prospects for the Future (Award# 0612366)

PI: Hu, Feng Sheng (
Phone: (217) 244.2982 
Institute/Department: U of Illinois, Urbana, Department of Plant Biology 
IPY Project? NO
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. William Wiseman (
Discipline(s): | Meteorology and Climate\Fire Ecology and Paleoecology | Social and Human Sciences |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
Recent observations attest to the profound ecological and societal consequences of climatic change in northern high latitudes. Evidence includes a doubling of area burned in the boreal forests of western North America over the past 30 years, attributed primarily to anthropogenic warming. Fire responses to climatic transients, however, are not straightforward. A major unknown in predicting arctic-system behavior is how climatic change may alter boreal fire regimes, which has potential to over-shadow the direct effects of anthropogenic warming on vegetational patterns, energy flux, and biogeochemical cycling. Boreal forests occupy ~80% of the Arctic Ocean watershed, and the proportion is expanding as a result of treeline advance in response to climatic warming. Increased occurrence of boreal-forest fires is expected to have pervasive effects on hydrological, biophysical, and biogeochemical processes that exert key controls on the tightly coupled climate system of arctic and boreal regions. In addition, fire-regime shifts and associated vegetational changes will have profound consequences to the animals and northern cultures that make use of both arctic and boreal landscapes. Researchers will monitor charcoal processes (dispersal, transport, and deposition) of contemporary and recent burns to parameterize a newly developed numerical model of charcoal-fire relationships (CharSiM), a tool that greatly enhances the rigor of fire-history reconstruction. The resulting knowledge will be applied to interpret fire histories of the past 6000 years (focusing on the neoglacial transition and oscillations associated with the Little Ice Age) from sediment-charcoal records. Sediment-charcoal data will be collected with statistical criteria in two study areas that are characterized by contrasting fire regimes and recent climate anomalies. The fire records will be compared with climatic and vegetational reconstructions using state-of-the-art paleoecological and geochemical techniques. An iterative paleodata-modeling approach will be applied to elucidate mechanistic processes of climate-vegetation-fire interactions (e.g., lead-lag relationship, fuel dynamics) using ALFRESCO, a model developed and well tested for studying Alaskan boreal ecosystems. Finally the improved ALFRESCO will be used to simulate regional fire regimes for the next 100 years based on a suite of forecast climate scenarios. This project blends a wide array of research expertise and builds upon the PIs’ strong track records in paleoecological and modeling studies of Alaskan boreal ecosystems. Each of the proposed research elements propose to advance the understanding of fire-climate-vegetation relations for the past, present, and future. This project proposes to bring new insights into the variability of boreal fire responses to climatic change and to improve the robustness of a key model for predicting future changes in boreal ecosystems. The prognostic simulations of the 21st century fire regimes will be directly relevant to fire management planning and policy. The researchers will engage local residents in fieldwork and give informal lectures to local scientists and communities. The proposed research is endorsed by the leaders of federal fire management units in Alaska who will be involved in the execution of this project and the dissemination of research products. The PIs will produce educational materials for outreach to the general public and for dissemination through visitor interpretive activities of the Alaska Fire Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.

Logistics Summary:
This collaborative project of 0612366 (Hu, U of Illinois) and 0611970 (Rupp, UAF) will investigate climate change impacts on forest fire regimes in Alaska, and will study two distinct areas with similar vegetation patterns but different climate anomalies and fire patterns: the Copper River Basin and the Yukon-Old Crow basin. Over the course of the grant, researchers will core a total of 30 lakes, mostly for late-Holocene sediments. During the first two years, field work and logistics support for this project will be combined when possible with another collaborative effort under which the PI has funding, 0318404 (Holocene Climate Variability), to maximize resources. In the laboratory, the researchers will use the samples to reconstruct fire history and (using the ALFRESCO modeling system) attempt to predict fire patterns over the next 100 years. During July of 2006, a field team will focus on the Copper River Basin, with reconnaissance flights to the Yukon Flats late in July. The team will spend several days in the field collecting long cores from lake bottoms for charcoal, pollen and paleoclimate records. These data will be compared with similar studies in the Yukon-Old Crow Basin, to be conducted during the summer of 2007 using a similar field team and field program as is planned for 2006. During 2008, a field team of 4 researchers will return to complete the coring effort at any of the planned sites previously not visited (including some planned for but not visited in 2006 due to air support shortages). For about 4 weeks beginning at the end of June, the researchers will travel to hubs—Kenai, Copper River, Central, and Toolik Field Station—via various transport methods. From these, researchers will travel to local field sites for sampling. At Toolik, the team will conduct a reconnaisance of the site of 2007’s Anaktuvuk River fire, taking cores for studying charcoal dispersal and for calibrating the CharSim model. In July 2009, the research group will travel via helicopter to service five sediment traps that were deployed in the Yukon Flats in 2008 and will travel via truck to service sediment traps in the Kenai Peninsula and Copper River Basin.

For all three years of field work, CPS will provide air charters to the lake sites inaccessible by road. Additionally, CPS will provide trucks to drive to road-accessible lakes, camping gear, field food, communications and safety gear, remote medical support, and shipping/storage of gear and samples. In 2008, CPS will provide Toolik user days. IAB will provide access to infrastructure/ and services at Toolik. All other logistics will be paid by the investigators through their grants.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2006Alaska - Copper River Basin07 / 21 / 2006 07 / 25 / 20064
2006Alaska - Yukon Flats07 / 19 / 2006 07 / 23 / 20064
2007Alaska - Copper River Basin06 / 15 / 2007 07 / 15 / 20074
2007Alaska - Yukon Flats07 / 04 / 2007 07 / 15 / 20073
2008Alaska - Copper River Basin07 / 07 / 2008 07 / 20 / 20084
2008Alaska - Kenai Peninsula06 / 29 / 2008 07 / 06 / 20082
2008Alaska - Toolik07 / 21 / 2008 07 / 24 / 20082
2008Alaska - Yukon Flats06 / 29 / 2008 07 / 06 / 20082
2009Alaska - Central07 / 08 / 2009 07 / 14 / 20093
2009Alaska - Copper River Basin07 / 06 / 2009 07 / 21 / 20092
2009Alaska - Kenai Peninsula07 / 06 / 2009 07 / 21 / 20092
2009Alaska - Yukon Flats07 / 06 / 2009 07 / 21 / 20092

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