Alaska Fire Science Consortium: Improving Science Information for Response Management

By: Alison York, Alaska Fire Science Consortium

Wildland fire is the dominant ecological disturbance in boreal forests. Wildland fire also affects tundra environments, as evidenced by the record Anaktuvuk River Fire of 2007. In Alaska, the number of acres burned each season varies dramatically (see Figure 1), but accumulating evidence indicates that climate change is increasing the extent of fire and contributing to extreme events such as the 2015 Alaska fire season, when over 5.1 million acres burned (more than half of all acres burned in the U.S.) or the 2016 conflagration in Ft McMurray, Alberta.

Figure 1: Number of wildland fires and acres burned in Alaska annually since 1939. Courtesy of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.Figure 1: Number of wildland fires and acres burned in Alaska annually since 1939. Courtesy of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Download Hi-Res Version of Figure 1

The Alaska Fire Science Consortium (AFSC) is one of 15 regional fire science exchanges supported by the federal Joint Fire Science Program to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and adoption of wildland fire science information by stakeholders within ecologically similar regions. Housed at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, AFSC works with both academic researchers and Alaska's interagency fire management community to improve the scientific basis of managers' decision-making.

Figure 2: MODIS image of Alaska, taken 1 September 2015, shows more than five million acres of burn scars from the 2015 season as dark red patches. NASA image courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team.Figure 2: MODIS image of Alaska, taken 1 September 2015, shows more than five million acres of burn scars from the 2015 season as dark red patches. NASA image courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team.

AFSC has actively collaborated with the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) Wildfire Collaboration Team (WCT). This body was chartered to address research gaps and areas for improvement in knowledge relating to wildfire activity, succession, and effects on local communities in the Arctic, specifically focusing on the tundra environment.

Figure 3: AFSC fire ecologist Randi Jandt examining fire effects on tundra one year after the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire. Photo courtesy of Randi Jandt.Figure 3: AFSC fire ecologist Randi Jandt examining fire effects on tundra one year after the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire. Photo courtesy of Randi Jandt.

With support from the NASA Applied Sciences Program, AFSC and WCT are collaborating to organize Opportunities to Apply Remote Sensing in Boreal/Arctic Wildfire Management and Science, an international workshop that will convene in Fairbanks 4-6 April 2017.

The workshop seeks to advance remote sensing tools and data for operational and scientific applications by high northern latitude fire ecology and management communities. Participants will include interagency fire managers as well as scientists with an interest in remote sensing and a variety of disciplines, including those active in the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE).

Topics of interest include:

  • Potential fire risk: Can remotely sensed data (e.g., daily snow extent, others) estimate spring soil moisture and surface and subsurface fuel moisture and fuel conditions, and thus provide critical inputs for fuel moisture indices used to predict fire danger and risk?
  • Near real-time fire behavior: Which remotely sensed data are best and most timely for fire detection, plume tracking of fire emissions, fire behavior modeling, mapping of flaming fronts, fire intensity, active fire perimeters, and response for ongoing fires?
  • Post-fire effects: Can we improve analytical methods for remotely sensed data to assess fire severity, consumption/carbon dioxid balance, active-layer changes, and successional trajectories of high latitude vegetation communities?

The outcomes of this workshop will advance co-developed investigations into new management and scientific uses of remote sensing data, including

  • Increasing the scientific foundation and operational efficiency of northern fire management.
  • Improving understanding of climate-induced changes in northern fire regimes and ecosystem components and potential feedbacks to the global climate system.
  • Leading to expanded application and use of remotely sensed data for fire management and fire science in high latitudes.

AFSC will publish workshop proceedings, including presentation abstracts, results, and consensus recommendations.

Limited funding is available to offset selected presenters' travel expenses, with priority given to students and other young investigators. The deadline to submit abstracts or apply for travel support is 15 November 2016. Submission instructions are on the AFSC website.

For more information, contact Alison York, by email (ayork [at] alaska.edu) or by phone: 907-474-6964.