Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Previously Published Works bannerUC Irvine

Quantifying fire‐wide carbon emissions in interior Alaska using field measurements and Landsat imagery


Carbon emissions from boreal forest fires are projected to increase with continued warming and constitute a potentially significant positive feedback to climate change. The highest consistent combustion levels are reported in interior Alaska and can be highly variable depending on the consumption of soil organic matter. Here we present an approach for quantifying emissions within a fire perimeter using remote sensing of fire severity. Combustion from belowground and aboveground pools was quantified at 22 sites (17 black spruce and five white spruce-aspen) within the 2010 Gilles Creek burn in interior Alaska, constrained by data from eight unburned sites. We applied allometric equations and estimates of consumption to calculate carbon losses from aboveground vegetation. The position of adventitious spruce roots within the soil column, together with estimated prefire bulk density and carbon concentrations, was used to quantify belowground combustion. The differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) exhibited a clear but nonlinear relationship with combustion that differed by forest type. We used a multiple regression model based on transformed dNBR and deciduous fraction to scale carbon emissions to the fire perimeter, and a Monte Carlo framework to assess uncertainty. Because of low-severity and unburned patches, mean combustion across the fire perimeter (1.98 ± 0.34 kg C m-2) was considerably less than within a defined core burn area (2.67 ± 0.40 kg C m-2) and the mean at field sites (2.88 ± 0.23 kg C m-2). These areas constitute a significant fraction of burn perimeters in Alaska but are generally not accounted for in regional-scale estimates. Although total combustion in black spruce was slightly lower than in white spruce-aspen forests, black spruce covered most of the fire perimeter (62%) and contributed the majority (67 ± 16%) of total emissions. Increases in spring albedo were found to be a viable alternative to dNBR for modeling emissions.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View