Image_2_Assessing Boreal Peat Fire Severity and Vulnerability of Peatlands to Early Season Wildland Fire.TIF
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Globally peatlands store large amounts of carbon belowground with 80% distributed in boreal regions of the northern hemisphere. Climate warming and drying of the boreal region has been documented as affecting fire regimes, with increased fire frequency, severity and extent. While much research is dedicated to assessing changes in boreal uplands, few research efforts are focused on the vulnerability of boreal peatlands to wildfire. In this case study, an integration of field data collection, land cover mapping of peatland types and Landsat-based fire severity mapping was conducted for four early season (May to mid-June) wildfires where peatlands are abundant in northeastern Alberta Canada. The goal was to better understand if peatlands burn more or less preferentially than uplands in fires and how severely the organic soil layers (peat) of different peatland ecotypes burn. The focus was on early season wildfires because they dominated the research area in the decade of study. To do this, a novel Landsat-5 metric was developed to retrieve fire severity of the organic surface layer. Spatial comparisons and statistical analysis showed that proportionally bogs are more likely to burn in early season Alberta wildfires than other ecosystem types, even fire-prone upland conifer. Although for a small sample, we found that when fire weather conditions for the duff layers are severe, the fens of this study appear to become more susceptible to burning. In addition, overall bogs experienced greater severity of burn to the peat layers than fens. Due to the small sample size of peat loss from fire in uplands and limited geographic area of this case study, we were unable to assess if bogs are burning more severely than uplands. Further analysis and Landsat algorithm development for organic soil fire severity in peatlands and uplands are needed to more fully understand trends in belowground consumption for wildfires of all seasons and boreal ecotypes.
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