Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Warming Climate May Cause Arctic Tundra to Burn

05.03.2008
Research from ancient sediment cores indicates that a warming climate could make the world’s arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought.

The findings, published this week in the online journal, PLoS ONE, are important given the potential for tundra fires to release organic carbon – which could add significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases already blamed for global warming.

Montana State University post-doctoral researcher Philip Higuera is the lead author on the paper, which summarizes a portion of a four-year study funded by the National Science Foundation.

Higuera and his co-authors examined ancient sediments from four lakes in a remote region of Alaska in and around Gates of the Arctic National Park to determine what kind of vegetation existed in the area after the last ice age, 14,000 to 9,000 years ago.

By looking at fossilized pollen grains in the sediment cores, Higuera and his co-authors determined that after the last ice age, the arctic tundra was very different from what it is now. Instead of being covered with grasses, herbs, and short shrubs, it was covered with vast expanses of tall birch shrubs.

Charcoal preserved in the sediment cores also showed evidence that those shrub expanses burned – frequently.

“This was a surprise,” Higuera said. “Modern tundra burns so infrequently that we don’t really have a good idea of how often tundra can burn. Best estimates for the most flammable tundra regions are that it burns once every 250-plus years.”

The ancient sediment cores showed the shrub tundra burned as frequently as modern boreal forests in Alaska – every 140 years on average, but with some fires spaced only 30 years apart.

Higuera’s research is important because other evidence indicates that as the climate has warmed in the past 50 to 100 years, shrubs have expanded across the world’s tundra regions.

“There is evidence of increasing shrub biomass in modern tundra ecosystems, and we expect temperatures to continue to increase and overall moisture levels to decrease. Combine these two factors and it suggests a greater potential for fires,” Higuera said. “The sediment cores indicate that it’s happened before.”

The world’s high latitude tundra and boreal forest ecosystems contain roughly 30 percent of the planet’s total soil carbon. Currently, much of the carbon is locked in permafrost. But a warming climate could cause the permafrost to melt and release its carbon stores into the atmosphere where it would contribute to the greenhouse effect.

“Vegetation change through an increase in shrub biomass and more frequent burning will change a great deal of the carbon cycle in these high latitudes,” Higuera said. “We don’t fully understand the implications, except that it’s reasonable to expect that carbon that was previously locked up could enter the atmosphere.”

The paper is the first in a series Higuera expects to publish from his field work. Future papers will examine how climate, vegetation, and fire regimes have interacted over the past 15,000 years in the region.

Higuera was assisted in his research by MSU undergraduate Alison Kennedy, who graduated in from Earth Sciences in 2007 and co-authors Linda Brubaker and Patricia Anderson from the University of Washington, Thomas Brown from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Feng Sheng Hu from the University of Illinois. A National Parks Ecological Research Fellow, Higuera works in the Paleoecology Lab led by MSU professor Cathy Whitlock.

Contact:
Tracy Ellig
Director, MSU News Service
Tel: +1 406-994-5607
Email: tellig@montana.edu
Philip Higuera
National Parks Ecological Research Fellow at Montana State University
Tel: +1 (406) 599-8908 (office), +1 (406) 994-6856 (lab)
Email philip.higuera@montana.edu
Citation: Higuera PE, Brubaker LB, Anderson PM, Brown TA, Kennedy AT, et al (2008) Frequent Fires in Ancient Shrub Tundra: Implications of Paleorecords for Arctic Environmental Change. PLoS ONE 3(3): e0001744. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001744

Rebecca Walton | alfa
Further information:
http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0001744

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>