Collect data on wildfire impacts on northern peatland carbon cycle


Wildfire is the most widespread peatland disturbance in Canada, and treed peatlands can burn with equal or even greater likelihood than even fire-prone upland forests. To understand the impacts of wildfire on the carbon balance of peatlands, it is necessary to account for both the immediate loss through combustion but also the long-term influence on the carbon balance in the years and decades after the fire. Permafrost affects almost half of peatlands in Canada and is often associated with relatively dry peat plateaus with black spruce forests that readily burn. Burned permafrost peatlands have very slow ecological recovery due to cold climates and extremely nutrient-poor conditions, and wildfire further causes a deepening and warming of the seasonally thawed peat layer which reaches its maximum ~15 years after the fire. Hence, we expect wildfire to have decadal impacts on both primary production, soil respiration, and the overall carbon balance. Monitoring of the greenhouse gas balance following wildfire, especially within the permafrost region, is a key data gap for our ability to model the future carbon balance of Canadian peatlands. A large wildfire in northernmost Alberta in early 2019 brought about a unique opportunity. Two eddy covariance towers were opportunistically installed; one in the peatland that burned in 2019 and one in a nearby peatland that burned in 2007. The two sites are already operational and collecting valuable data, but funding is required to continue past the end of 2021 and to upgrade the instrumentation to meet data requirements for inclusion and comparability with other Canadian and international sites (e.g., improved net radiometer, soil moisture/temperature sensors).

Activity Outline

  • Monitor the exchange of carbon dioxide and methane from the 2019 and 2007 burned sites until at least the end of 2026
  • Further collect additional ancillary data, e.g., soil respiration during winter using forced diffusion sensors, soil chamber measurements of greenhouse gas exchange, assessment of vegetation communities and ecological succession, and monitoring of permafrost conditions
  • Include local community members in the research and train them to collect data and perform instrument maintenance during site visits.