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Arctic and boreal paleofire records reveal drivers of fire activity and departures from Holocene variabilityBoreal forest and tundra biomes are key components of the Earth system because the mobilization of large carbon stocks and changes in energy balance could act as positive feedbacks to ongoing climate change. In Alaska, wildfire is a primary driver of ecosystem structure and function, and a key mechanism coupling high‐latitude ecosystems to global climate. Paleoecological records reveal sensitivity of fire regimes to climatic and vegetation change over centennial–millennial time scales, highlighting increased burning concurrent with warming or elevated landscape flammability. To quantify spatiotemporal patterns in fire‐regime variability, we synthesized 27 published sediment‐charcoal records from four Alaskan ecoregions, and compared patterns to paleoclimate and paleovegetation records. Biomass burning and fire frequency increased significantly in boreal forest ecoregions with the expansion of black spruce, ca. 6,000–4,000 years before present (yr BP). Biomass burning also increased during warm periods, particularly in the Yukon Flats ecoregion from ca. 1,000 to 500 yr BP. Increases in biomass burning concurrent with constant fire return intervals suggest increases in average fire severity (i.e., more biomass burning per fire) during warm periods. Results also indicate increases in biomass burning over the last century across much of Alaska that exceed Holocene maxima, providing important context for ongoing change.more »
Abstract. Wildfire is a dominant disturbance agent in forest ecosystems, shaping important biogeochemical processes including net carbon (C) balance. Long-term monitoring and chronosequence studies highlight a resilience of biogeochemical properties to large, stand-replacing, high-severity fire events. In contrast, the consequences of repeated fires or temporal variability in a fire regime (e.g., the characteristic timing or severity of fire) are largely unknown, yet theory suggests that such variability could strongly influence forest C trajectories (i.e., future states or directions) for millennia. Here we combine a 4500-year paleoecological record of fire activity with ecosystem modeling to investigate how fire-regime variability impacts soil C and net ecosystem carbon balance. We found that C trajectories in a paleo-informed scenario differed significantly from an equilibrium scenario (with a constant fire return interval), largely due to variability in the timing and severity of past fires. Paleo-informed scenarios contained multi-century periods of positive and negative net ecosystem C balance, with magnitudes significantly larger than observed under the equilibrium scenario. Further, this variability created legacies in soil C trajectories that lasted for millennia. Our results imply that fire-regime variability is a major driver of C trajectories in stand-replacing fire regimes. Predicting carbon balance in these systems, therefore, willmore »