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Daily burned area and carbon emissions from boreal fires in Alaska


Boreal fires burn into carbon-rich organic soils, thereby releasing large quantities of trace gases and aerosols that influence atmospheric composition and climate. To better understand the factors regulating boreal fire emissions, we developed a statistical model of carbon consumption by fire for Alaska with a spatial resolution of 450 m and a temporal resolution of 1 day. We used the model to estimate variability in carbon emissions between 2001 and 2012. Daily burned area was mapped using imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer combined with perimeters from the Alaska Large Fire Database. Carbon consumption was calibrated using available field measurements from black spruce forests in Alaska. We built two nonlinear multiplicative models to separately predict above- and belowground carbon consumption by fire in response to environmental variables including elevation, day of burning within the fire season, pre-fire tree cover and the differenced normalized burn ratio (dNBR). Higher belowground carbon consumption occurred later in the season and for mid-elevation forests. Topographic slope and aspect did not improve performance of the belowground carbon consumption model. Aboveground and belowground carbon consumption also increased as a function of tree cover and the dNBR, suggesting a causal link between the processes regulating these two components of carbon consumption. Between 2001 and 2012, the median carbon consumption was 2.54 kg C m-2. Burning in land-cover types other than black spruce was considerable and was associated with lower levels of carbon consumption than for pure black spruce stands. Carbon consumption originated primarily from the belowground fraction (median Combining double low line 2.32 kg C m-2 for all cover types and 2.67 kg C m-2 for pure black spruce stands). Total carbon emissions varied considerably from year to year, with the highest emissions occurring during 2004 (69 Tg C), 2005 (46 Tg C), 2009 (26 Tg C), and 2002 (17 Tg C) and a mean of 15 Tg C year-1 between 2001 and 2012. Mean uncertainty of carbon consumption for the domain, expressed as 1 standard deviation (SD), was 0.50 kg C m-2. Uncertainties in the multiplicative regression model used to estimate belowground consumption in black spruce stands and the land-cover classification were primary contributors to uncertainty estimates. Our analysis highlights the importance of accounting for the spatial heterogeneity of fuels and combustion when extrapolating emissions in space and time, and the need for of additional field campaigns to increase the density of observations as a function of tree cover and other environmental variables influencing consumption. The daily emissions time series from the Alaskan Fire Emissions Database (AKFED) presented here creates new opportunities to study environmental controls on daily fire dynamics, optimize boreal fire emissions in biogeochemical models, and quantify potential feedbacks from changing fire regimes.

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