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Massive Northern Forests at Risk

Massive Northern Forests at Risk

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 24 August 2019



Massive Northern Forests at Risk

Boreal forest fires could release deep soil carbon,
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, August 21, 2019.


Feedback Loop by Fire
"Increasingly frequent and severe forest fires could burn generations-old carbon stored in the soils of boreal forests, according to results from the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment."

"Canada’s Northwest Territories were scorched by record-breaking wildfires in 2014."

Why this is Very, Very Important
Arboreal Forest Burning Accelerating for Years

Boreal Forests Burning More Now Than Any Time in Past 10,000 Years,
Scientific American, July 2013.

Legacy Carbon
"Boreal forests have long been thought to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release into it, making them carbon “sinks.” But if bigger and more frequent fires start burning legacy carbon, these forests could start releasing more carbon than they store."

"After observing the intensity of the 2014 fires, the team wondered if these pools of legacy carbon were at risk."

“Carbon accumulates in these soils like tree rings, with the newest carbon at the surface and the oldest carbon at the bottom.”

"The team measured the age of the trees, how deep in the soil the fire burned, how moist the sampled area was, and the depth of the topmost soil organic layer, composed of plant and animal matter. They also used radiocarbon dating of the soils to determine if the legacy carbon pools burned in the fire."

Young Forests Going First
"The team found that wetter forests and those less than 60 years old were more likely to contain legacy carbon than older, drier forests. But the ones most likely to lose that legacy carbon were the young forests in drier areas. These forests were less likely to have accumulated enough organic matter to protect the older carbon between previous fires and the 2014 fire. Almost half of the plots under 60 years old lost legacy carbon, while just one older plot did."

"In total, about 12% of the forests that burned in the 2014 fires met the criteria for being vulnerable to legacy carbon loss."

“In older stands that burn, legacy carbon is protected by thick organic soils.”


Bottom Line

Change You Can Believe In
The boreal forests are currently rapidly warming rapidly and drying out, as is the permafrost zone laying North of the boreal forest zone. Thus I expect these old wet forests are currently transitioning into old dry forests as they follow our current trajectory of warming, which means they will eventually burn, and then burn again, as the trajectory of warming and drying progresses into the next few decades of our future.

Global Forest Succession
We are observing a world-wide forest succession as our warming climate alters the character and timing of seasons around the world. These already altered seasonal conditions no longer match the environmental requirements necessary to maintain our planet's traditional distribution of forests, so these forests are drying out, dying, and burning, to be eventually be replaced by forests better matched to our emerging warmer environment.



Study: changing climate prompts boreal forest shift


Boreal Forest of Canada,



May 2019
Abrupt Permafrost Thaw Underway Right Now



Plant & Tree News & Reseach, Summer and Fall of 2019

News of Man & Nature, August 2019








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