skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on January 1, 2023

Title: How interactions between wildfire and seasonal soil moisture fluxes drive nitrogen cycling in Northern Sierra Nevada forests
As wildfires become larger and more severe across western North America, it grows increasingly important to understand how they will affect the biogeochemical processes influencing ecosystem recovery. Soil nitrogen (N) cycling is a key process constraining recovery rates. In addition to its direct responses to fire, N cycling can also respond to other post-fire transformations, including increases or decreases in microbial biomass, soil moisture, and pH. To examine the short-term effects of wildfire on belowground processes in the northern Sierra Nevada, we collected soil samples along a gradient from unburned to high fire severity over 10  months following a wildfire. This included immediate pre- and post-fire sampling for many variables at most sites. While season and soil moisture did not substantially alter pH, microbial biomass, net N mineralisation, and nitrification in unburned locations, they interacted with burn severity in complex ways to constrain N cycling after fire. In areas that burned, pH increased (at least initially) after fire, and there were non-monotonic changes in microbial biomass. Net N mineralisation also had variable responses to wetting in burned locations. These changes suggest burn severity and precipitation patterns can interact to alter N cycling rates following fire.
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1916658
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10352161
Journal Name:
International Journal of Wildland Fire
Volume:
31
Issue:
8
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
786 to 798
ISSN:
1049-8001
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. There is an increased risk of future fire disturbances due to climate change and anthropogenic activity. These disturbances can impact soil moisture content and infiltration, which are important antecedent conditions for predicting rainfall–runoff processes in semi-arid regions. Yet these conditions are not well documented. This case study provides critical field measurements and information, which are needed to improve our understanding of mechanisms such as precipitation and temperature that lead to the variability of soil properties and processes in urban and burned landscapes. In June 2018, a fire burned a portion of the riparian zone in Alvarado Creek, an urban tributary of the San Diego River in California, United States. This fire provided an opportunity to observe soil moisture content and infiltration for one year after the fire. Three transects (one burned and two unburned) were monitored periodically to evaluate the complex spatial and temporal dynamics of soil moisture and infiltration patterns. Average dry season soil moisture content was less than five percent volume water content (%VWC) for all transects, and the burned transect exhibited the lowest %VWC during the wet season. Infiltration rates displayed a high degree of spatial and temporal variability. However, the location with the highest burn severitymore »had the lowest average infiltration rate. The observed differences between the burned and unburned transects indicate that the fire altered hydrologic processes of the landscape and reduced the ability of the soil to retain water during the wet season. This research provides the first high-resolution soil moisture and infiltration field analysis of an urban fire-disturbed stream in southern California and a method to characterize post-fire hydrologic conditions for rainfall–runoff processes.« less
  2. Abstract

    Circum-boreal and -tundra systems are crucial carbon pools that are experiencing amplified warming and are at risk of increasing wildfire activity. Changes in wildfire activity have broad implications for vegetation dynamics, underlying permafrost soils, and ultimately, carbon cycling. However, understanding wildfire effects on biophysical processes across eastern Siberian taiga and tundra remains challenging because of the lack of an easily accessible annual fire perimeter database and underestimation of area burned by MODIS satellite imagery. To better understand wildfire dynamics over the last 20 years in this region, we mapped area burned, generated a fire perimeter database, and characterized fire regimes across eight ecozones spanning 7.8 million km2of eastern Siberian taiga and tundra from ∼61–72.5° N and 100° E–176° W using long-term satellite data from Landsat, processed via Google Earth Engine. We generated composite images for the annual growing season (May–September), which allowed mitigation of missing data from snow-cover, cloud-cover, and the Landsat 7 scan line error. We used annual composites to calculate the difference Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) for each year. The annual dNBR images were converted to binary burned or unburned imagery that was used to vectorize fire perimeters. We mapped 22 091 fires burning 152 million hectaresmore »(Mha) over 20 years. Although 2003 was the largest fire year on record, 2020 was an exceptional fire year for four of the northeastern ecozones resulting in substantial increases in fire activity above the Arctic Circle. Increases in fire extent, severity, and frequency with continued climate warming will impact vegetation and permafrost dynamics with increased likelihood of irreversible permafrost thaw that leads to increased carbon release and/or conversion of forest to shrublands.

    « less
  3. Information on wildfire impacts and ecosystem responses is relatively sparse in the Great Basin of North America, where subalpine ecosystems are generally dominated by five-needle pines. We analyzed existing vegetation, with an emphasis on regeneration following the year 2000 Phillips Ranch Fire, at a sky-island site in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada. Our main objective was to compare bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva; PILO) post-fire establishment and survival to that of the co-occurring dominant conifers limber pine (Pinus flexilis; PIFL) and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii; PIEN) in connection with site characteristics. Field data were collected in 40 circular 0.1 ha plots (17.8 m radius) randomly located using GIS so that half of them were inside (“burned”) and half were outside (“unburned”) the 2000 fire boundary. While evidence of previous burns was also found, we focused on impacts from the Phillips Ranch Fire. Mean total basal area, including live and dead stems, was not significantly different between plots inside the burn and plots outside the fire perimeter, but the live basal area was significantly less in the former than in the latter. Wildfire impacts did not limit regeneration, and indeed bristlecone seedlings and saplings were more abundant in plots inside themore »2000 fire perimeter than in those outside of it. PILO regeneration, especially saplings, was more abundant than PIFL and PCEN combined, indicating that PILO can competitively regenerate under modern climatic conditions. Surviving PILO regeneration in burned plots was also taller than that of PIFL. By contrast, PCEN was nearly absent in the plots that had been impacted by fire. Additional research should explicitly address how climatic changes and disturbance processes may interact in shaping future vegetation dynamics.« less
  4. Abstract

    Wildfires are altering ecosystems globally as they change in frequency, size, and severity. As wildfires change vegetation structure, they also alter moisture inputs and energy fluxes which influence snowpack and hydrology. In unburned forests, snow has been shown to accumulate more in small clearings or in stands with low to moderate forest densities. Here we investigate whether peak snowpack varies with burn severity or percent overstory tree mortality post-fire in a mid-latitude, subalpine forest. We found that peak snowpack across the burn severity gradients increased 15% in snow-water equivalence (SWE) and 17% in depth for every 20% increase in overstory tree mortality due to burn severity. Snowpack quantity varied greatly between the two winter seasons sampled in this study with 114% more snow in 2016 versus 2015, yet the effect of burn severity on snowpack remained consistent. These data support previous studies showing increases in peak snow depth and SWE in burned forests but for the first time provides novel insights into how snow depth and SWE change as a function of burn severity. We conclude that changes not only in the frequency and size of wildfires, but also in the severity, can alter peak snow depth and SWE,more »with important potential implications for watershed hydrology.

    « less
  5. Abstract Wildfires are a major disturbance to forest carbon (C) balance through both immediate combustion emissions and post-fire ecosystem dynamics. Here we used a process-based biogeochemistry model, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM), to simulate C budget in Alaska and Canada during 1986–2016, as impacted by fire disturbances. We extracted the data of difference Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) for fires from Landsat TM/ETM imagery and estimated the proportion of vegetation and soil C combustion. We observed that the region was a C source of 2.74 Pg C during the 31-year period. The observed C loss, 57.1 Tg C year −1 , was attributed to fire emissions, overwhelming the net ecosystem production (1.9 Tg C year −1 ) in the region. Our simulated direct emissions for Alaska and Canada are within the range of field measurements and other model estimates. As burn severity increased, combustion emission tended to switch from vegetation origin towards soil origin. When dNBR is below 300, fires increase soil temperature and decrease soil moisture and thus, enhance soil respiration. However, the post-fire soil respiration decreases for moderate or high burn severity. The proportion of post-fire soil emission in total emissions increased with burn severity. Net nitrogen mineralization graduallymore »recovered after fire, enhancing net primary production. Net ecosystem production recovered fast under higher burn severities. The impact of fire disturbance on the C balance of northern ecosystems and the associated uncertainties can be better characterized with long-term, prior-, during- and post-disturbance data across the geospatial spectrum. Our findings suggest that the regional source of carbon to the atmosphere will persist if the observed forest wildfire occurrence and severity continues into the future.« less