Fire is a particularly important control on the carbon (C) balance of the boreal forest, and fire-return intervals and fire severity appear to have increased since the late 1900s in North America. In addition to the immediate release of stored C to the atmosphere through organic-matter combustion, fire also modifies soil conditions, possibly affecting C exchange between terrestrial and atmospheric pools for decades after the burn. The effects of fire on ecosystem C dynamics vary across the landscape, with topographic position and soil drainage functioning as important controls.
The data reported here contributed to a larger U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study, published in the journal Ecosystems by O'Donnell and others (2009). To evaluate the effects of fire and drainage on ecosystem C dynamics, we selected sample sites within the 2003 Erickson Creek fire scar to measure CO2 fluxes and soil C inventories in burned and unburned (control) sites in both upland and lowland black spruce (Picea mariana) forests. The results of this study suggested that although fire can create soil climate conditions which are more conducive to rapid decomposition, rates of C release from soils may be constrained after fire by changes in moisture and (or) substrate quality that impede rates of decomposition. Here, we report detailed site information, methodology, and data (in spreadsheet files) from that study.