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Unrecorded tundra fires of the Arctic Slope, Alaska USA

March 5, 2023
Few fires are known to have burned the tundra of the Arctic Slope north of the Brooks Range in Alaska, USA. A total of 90 fires between 1969 and 2022 are known. Because fire has been rare, old burns can be detected by the traces of thermokarst and distinct vegetation they leave in otherwise uniform tundra, which are visible in aerial photograph archives. Several prehistoric tundra burns have been found in this way. Detection of tundra fires in this sparsely populated and remote area has been historically inconsistent and opportunistic, relying on reports by aircraft pilots. Fire reports have been logged into an administrative database which, out of necessity, has been used to scientifically evaluate changes in the fire regime. To improve the consistency of the record, we completed a systematic search of Landsat Collection 2 for the Brooks Range Foothills ecoregion over the period 1972–2022. We found 57 unrecorded tundra burns, about 41% of the total, which now numbers 138. Only 15% and 33% of all fires appear in MODIS and VIIRS satellite-borne thermal anomaly products, respectively. The fire frequency in the first 37 years of the record is 0.89 y−1 for natural ignitions that spread ≥10 ha. Frequency in the last 13 years is 2.5 y−1, indicating a nearly three-fold increase in fire frequency.

Publication Year 2023
Title Unrecorded tundra fires of the Arctic Slope, Alaska USA
DOI 10.3390/fire6030101
Authors Eric A. Miller, Benjamin M. Jones, Carson Baughman, Randi R. Jandt, Jennifer L. Jenkins, David A. Yokel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Fire
Index ID 70248364
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Geography