Faculty Publications

Title

Circumpolar spatio-temporal patterns and contributing climatic factors of wildfire activity in the Arctic tundra from 2001-2015

Document Type

Article

Keywords

circumpolar Arctic, climate change, climate feedback, climate variability, tundra wildfire

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Environmental Research Letters

Volume

13

Issue

1

Abstract

Recent years have seen an increased frequency of wildfire events in different parts of Arctic tundra ecosystems. Contemporary studies have largely attributed these wildfire events to the Arctic's rapidly changing climate and increased atmospheric disturbances (i.e. thunderstorms). However, existing research has primarily examined the wildfire-climate dynamics of individual large wildfire events. No studies have investigated wildfire activity, including climatic drivers, for the entire tundra biome across multiple years, i.e. at the planetary scale. To address this limitation, this paper provides a planetary/circumpolar scale analyses of space-time patterns of tundra wildfire occurrence and climatic association in the Arctic over a 15 year period (2001-2015). In doing so, we have leveraged and analyzed NASA Terra's MODIS active fire and MERRA climate reanalysis products at multiple temporal scales (decadal, seasonal and monthly). Our exploratory spatial data analysis found that tundra wildfire occurrence was spatially clustered and fire intensity was spatially autocorrelated across the Arctic regions. Most of the wildfire events occurred in the peak summer months (June-August). Our multi-temporal (decadal, seasonal and monthly) scale analyses provide further support to the link between climate variability and wildfire activity. Specifically, we found that warm and dry conditions in the late spring to mid-summer influenced tundra wildfire occurrence, spatio-temporal distribution, and fire intensity. Additionally, reduced average surface precipitation and soil moisture levels in the winter-spring period were associated with increased fire intensity in the following summer. These findings enrich contemporary knowledge on tundra wildfire's spatial and seasonal patterns, and shed new light on tundra wildfire-climate relationships in the circumpolar context. Furthermore, this first pan-Arctic analysis provides a strong incentive and direction for future studies which integrate multiple datasets (i.e. climate, fuels, topography, and ignition sources) to accurately estimate carbon emission from tundra burning and its global climate feedbacks in coming decades.

Original Publication Date

1-1-2018

DOI of published version

10.1088/1748-9326/aa9a76

Repository

UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa

Language

en

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