• Linked disturbance interactions in South-Central Alaska: implications for ecosystems and people

      Hansen, Winslow D. (2013-05)
      Communities and ecosystems in the Alaskan boreal forest are undergoing substantial change. People contribute to this change. They are also impacted by the consequences. For example, wildfire and spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) outbreaks have increased in frequency and severity due to warming trends, affecting the ecosystem and services important to people. I conducted a study to explore the social and ecological implications of changing natural disturbances. I evaluated how the occurrence of spruce bark beetle outbreak has altered the probability of wildfire between 2001 and 2009 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Modeling the effects of bark beetle outbreak on the probability of large wildfire (> 500 ha) and small wildfires (<500 ha), I found that the influence of the outbreak differed as a function of wildfire size. The occurrence and length of outbreak increased large wildfire probability. Small wildfires were mediated by human influence and less so by bark beetle outbreak. I also used spatial econometric techniques to estimate how wildfires and the bark beetle outbreak affected property values on the Kenai Peninsula in 2001 and 2010. I found that wildfires> 3.3 ha and the bark-beetle outbreak increased property values. Wildfires <3.3 ha decreased property values.
    • Post-fire variability in Siberian alder in Interior Alaska: distribution patterns, nitrogen fixation rates, and ecosystem consequences

      Houseman, Brian Richard; Ruess, Roger; Hollingsworth, Teresa; Verbyla, Dave (2017-12)
      The circumpolar boreal forest is responsible for a considerable proportion of global carbon sequestration and is an ecosystem with limited nitrogen (N) pools. Boreal forest fires are predicted to increase in severity, size, and frequency resulting in increased losses of N from this system due to volatilization. Siberian alder (Alnus viridis ssp. fruticosa) N-fixation is a significant source of N-input within the interior Alaskan boreal forest and likely plays a pivotal, though poorly understood, role in offsetting losses of N due to fire. This study disentangles the effects of fire severity, post-fire age, and environmental variables on Siberian alder N-input across the upland boreal forest and quantifies the landscape-level implications of Siberian alder N-input on N pool balance. Stand types of an early- and intermediate-age burn scar were determined by relevé plot sampling, hierarchical clustering, and indicator species analysis. Alder growth traits (density, nodule biomass, nodule N-fixation, and other traits) were sampled across all stand types, burn scars, and a fire severity gradient. Pre- and post-fire landscape-level N-fixation inputs were quantified within the early-age burn scar by scaling-up Siberian alder growth traits to the stand-level and then mapping the total area of pre- and post-fire stand types. Results show that fire severity shares a complex relationship with Siberian alder N-input in black spruce stands, wherein moderate fire severity has a negligible effect on Siberian alder N-input, moderate to high fire severity increases Siberian alder N-input, and high fire severity reduces Siberian alder N-input. Fire likely limited alder vegetative propagation in post-fire black spruce trajectory stands but enhanced propagation in post-fire deciduous trajectory stands that experienced moderate severity. Following the 2004 Boundary Fire, Siberian alder N-input showed an overall increase across the landscape, mostly within post-fire deciduous stand types. Future increases of fire severity and subsequent conversions of stand type from black spruce to deciduous dominance have the potential to increase total short-term N-input on the landscape, but a majority of those gains will be concentrated within a small proportion of the post-fire landscape (i.e. deciduous trajectory stand types). In the boreal forest, the temporal and spatial pattern of ecosystem processes that rely on N fixation inputs is dependent on the recruitment and growth of Siberian alder, which is in turn dependent on a complex relationship between fire severity, stand type, and post-fire age.
    • Satellite remote sensing of active wildfires in Alaska's boreal forest

      Waigl, Christine F.; Stuefer, Martin; Prakash, Anupma; Verbyla, David; Ichoku, Charles (2017-12)
      This research addresses improvements to the detection and characterization of active wildfires in Alaska with satellite-based sensors. The VIIRS I-band Fire Detection Algorithm for High Latitudes (VIFDAHL) was developed and evaluated against existing active fire products from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). This new algorithm is based on VIIRS 375 m spatial resolution imagery and was tuned using fires in Alaska's boreal forest. It provides improved fire detection of low-intensity fires, especially during daytime and at sensor zenith angles smaller than approximately 50° off nadir. Low-intensity active fires, which represent residual combustion present after the passage of a high-intensity fire front, are not very well detected by existing active fire products. A second topic was fire remote sensing with ~30 m resolution imaging spectrometer (or hyperspectral instrument), the Hyperion sensor on NASA's EO-1 spacecraft, which was in use from 2000 to 2016. Hyperion had a much higher spectral resolution than VIIRS or MODIS, but no repeat imagery of the same active fire was available in Alaska. The investigation relied on absorption and emission features in the radiance spectra acquired at every pixel location. Three fire detection methods were evaluated using archived Hyperion data from three fires in interior Alaska from 2004 and 2009: A version of the Hyperspectral Fire Detection Algorithm (HFDI) produced excellent active fire maps; an approach that relies on a shortwave infrared carbon dioxide absorption feature and associated Continuum Interpolated Band Ratio (CO₂ CIBR) proved to be useful, but was affected by sensor noise and clouds; finally, a potassium emission feature from biomass burning was not detectable in the Hyperion data. Fire temperatures were determined using the Hyperion shortwave infrared spectra between 1400 nm and 2400 nm. The temperatures of active fire, the corresponding partial pixel areas, and the pixel areas occupied by unburned and already-burned vegetation, respectively, were modeled within each fire pixel. A model with two reflected background components and two temperature endmembers, applied to the same three study scenes, yielded an excellent fit to Hyperion spectral radiance data. Fire temperatures ranged from approximately 500-600 K to approximately 800-900 K. The retrieved lower fire temperatures are within the range of smoldering combustion; high-temperature values are limited by Hyperion's saturation behavior. High-temperature fire occupying 0.2% of a pixel (2 m²) was detectable. Sub-pixel fire area and temperature were also retrieved using VIIRS 750 m (M-band) data, with comparable results. Uncertainties were evaluated using a Monte Carlo simulation. This work offers insight into the sensitivity of fire detection products to time of day (largely due to overpass timing), spatial distribution over the study area (largely due to orbital properties) and sensor zenith angle. The results are relevant for sensor and algorithm design regarding the use of new multi- and hyperspectral sensors for fire science in the northern high latitudes. Data products resulting from this research were designed to be suitable for supporting fire management with an emphasis on real-time applications and also address less time-sensitive questions such as retrievals of fire temperature and time series of fire evolution.