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Fire Ecology, 2017
Volume 13, Issue 1

Carbon Emissions during Wildland Fire an a North American Temperate Peatland
Authors: Robert A. Mickler, David P. Welch, and Andrew D. Bailey
Pages: 34-57
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.1301034

Northern temperate zone (30° to 50° latitude) peatlands store a large proportion of the world’s terrestrial carbon (C) and are subject to high-intensity, stand-replacing wildfires characterized by flaming stage combustion of aboveground vegetation and long-duration smoldering stage combustion of organic soils. Coastal peatlands are a unique region in which long-duration wildfire soil combustion is responsible for the majority of total annual emissions from all wildfires in the North American coastal plain. We developed a new method and approach to estimate aboveground and belowground C emissions from a 2008 peatland wildfire by analyzing vegetation C losses from field surveys of biomass consumption from the fire and soil C losses derived from the Soil Survey Geographic Database, a digital elevation model derived from airborne optical remote-sensing technology and ground elevation surveys using a Global Navigation Satellite System receiver. The approach to estimate belowground C emissions employed pre-fire LIDAR-derived elevation from ground return points coupled with post-fire survey-grade GPS elevation measurements from co-located ground return points. Aboveground C emission calculations were characterized for litter, shrub foliage and woody biomass, and tree foliage fractions in different vegetation classes, thereby providing detailed emissions sources. The estimate of wildland fire C emissions considered the contribution of hydrologic regime and land management to fire severity and peat burn depth. The peatland wildfire had a mean peat burn depth of 0.42 m and resulted in estimated belowground fire emissions of 9.16 Tg C and aboveground fire emissions of 0.31 Tg C, for total fire emissions of 9.47 Tg C (1 Tg = 1012 grams). The mean belowground C emissions were estimated at 544.43 t C ha-1, and the mean aboveground C emissions were 18.33 t C ha-1 (1 t = 106 grams).

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