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Soils in Alaska, and in high latitude terrestrial ecosystems in general, contain significant amounts of organic carbon, most of which is believed to have accumulated since the start of the Holocene about 10 ky before present. High latitude soils are estimated to contain 30-40% of terrestrial soil carbon (Melillo et al., 1995; McGuire and Hobbie, 1997), or ~ 300-400 Gt C (Gt = 1015 g), which equals about half of the current atmospheric burden of carbon. Boreal forests in particular are estimated to have more soil carbon than any other terrestrial biome (Post et al., 1982; Chapin and Matthews, 1993). The relations among net primary production, soil carbon storage, recurrent fire disturbance, nutrients, the hydrologic cycle, permafrost and geomorphology are poorly understood in boreal forest. Fire disturbance has been suggested to play a key role in the interactions among the complex biogeochemical processes influencing carbon storage in boreal forest soils (Harden et al., 2000; Zhuang et al., 2002). There has been an observed increase in fire disturbance in North American boreal black spruce (Picea mariana) forests in recent decades (Murphy et al., 1999; Kasichke et al., 2000), concurrent with increases in Alaskan boreal and arctic surface temperatures and warming of permafrost (Osterkamp and Romanofsky, 1999). Understanding the role of fire in long term carbon storage and how recent changes in fire frequency and severity may influence future high latitude soil carbon pools is necessary for those working to understand or mitigate the effects of global climate change.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Fate of carbon in Alaskan Landscapes Project: database for soils from eddy covariance tower sites, Delta Junction, AK