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An estimate of carbon emissions from 2004 wildfires across Alaskan Yukon River Basin

January 1, 2007


Wildfires are an increasingly important component of the forces that drive the global carbon (C) cycle and climate change as progressive warming is expected in boreal areas. This study estimated C emissions from the wildfires across the Alaskan Yukon River Basin in 2004. We spatially related the firescars to land cover types and defined the C fractions of aboveground biomass and the ground layer (referring to the top 15 cm organic soil layer only in this paper) consumed in association with land cover types, soil drainage classes, and the C stocks in the ground layer.


The fires led to a burned area of 26,500 km2 and resulted in the total C emission of 81.1 ± 13.6 Tg (Tg, Teragram; 1 Tg = 1012 g) or 3.1 ± 0.7 kg C m-2 burned. Of the total C emission, about 73% and 27% could be attributed to the consumption of the ground layer and aboveground biomass, respectively.


The predominant contribution of the ground layer to the total C emission implies the importance of ground fuel management to the control of wildfires and mitigation of C emissions. The magnitude of the total C emission depends on fire extent, while the C loss in kg C m-2 burned is affected strongly by the ground layer and soil drainage condition. The significant reduction in the ground layer by large fires may result in profound impacts on boreal ecosystem services with an increase in feedbacks between wildfires and climate change.

Publication Year 2007
Title An estimate of carbon emissions from 2004 wildfires across Alaskan Yukon River Basin
DOI 10.1186/1750-0680-2-12
Authors Zhengxi Tan, Larry L. Tieszen, Zhiliang Zhu, Shuguang Liu, Stephen M. Howard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Carbon Balance and Management
Index ID 70031479
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center