Boreal Forest Fires Could Release Deep Soil Carbon

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 (ABoVE) funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division. Releasing this previously buried carbon into the atmosphere could change these forests’ balance of carbon gain and loss, potentially accelerating warming.

As Arctic summers get warmer and drier, boreal forest fires are becoming more intense, meaning they burn deeper into the soil. Researcher Xanthe Walker and her team investigated whether the 2014 fires in Canada’s Northwest Territories burned deep enough to release older carbon that is normally stored and protected in the soil. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

Canada’s Northwest Territories were scorched by record-breaking wildfires in 2014. The team of researchers from the United States and Canada took soil samples from more than 200 locations in the region. They found that for old forests (more than 70 years old) and forests in wet locations, a thick layer of organic matter in the soil protected the oldest carbon, called “legacy carbon,” that was not burned in previous cycles of burn and regrowth. However, in younger, drier forests, the shallower soil organic matter layer allowed fires to

Original Title: Boreal Forest Fires Could Release Deep Soil Carbon
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