Friday, February 11, 2011

Frequent, severe fires turn Alaskan forests into a carbon production line

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech University Director of Public Relations

Posted Feb. 10, 2011, in Michigan Tech News


HOUGHTON -- Alaskan forests used to be important players in Mother Nature’s game plan for regulating carbon dioxide levels in the air. It’s elementary earth science: Trees take up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.

But now, American and Canadian researchers report that climate change is causing wildfires to burn larger swaths of Alaskan trees and to char the groundcover more severely, turning the black spruce forests of Alaska from repositories of carbon to generators of it. And the more carbon dioxide they release, the greater impact that may have in turn on future climate change.

"Since the proliferation of black spruce, Alaskan soils have acted as huge carbon sinks," says Evan Kane, a research assistant professor in Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. "But with more frequent and more extensive burning in recent decades, these forests now lose more carbon in any fire event than they have historically been able to take up between fires."

Kane is co-author on a paper published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience. Lead author on the research study titled "Recent Acceleration of Biomass Burning and Carbon Losses in Alaskan Forests and Peatlands" is Merritt R. Turetsky of the University of Guelph, Ontario. ...

Read the rest of this article in the Michigan Tech News.

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