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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Impacts of wildfire on forest surface fuel carbon in Pacific Northwest forests Peterson, Kate Frances


Forest fires are a common disturbance agent throughout the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and affect stand structure, age, species composition, and carbon storage of the productive PNW forests. Fire regimes in the PNW are predicted to shift towards more frequent and severe fires with climate change, which has important implications for carbon storage in the region. This study examines how fire severity (defined by remote sensing) impacts forest surface carbon pools (duff, litter, and downed woody materials). These carbon pools store a high proportion of stand carbon, and they have short- and long-term impacts on ecosystem function and fire behaviour. I examined one atypically large and severe fire in coastal British Columbia to obtain baseline measurements of post-fire forest floor fuel carbon (duff, litter, woody materials of all sizes) in the region. I found that there were no differences in total surface carbon between burned and unburned plots, but there were less duff and litter fuels in burned plots. This study provides baseline data for studies of post-fire forest floor carbon dynamics in the Boulder Creek region. Data from the United States Forest Inventory and Analysis program were utilized to estimate regional wildfire consumption factors for forest surface carbon pools (duff, litter, fine woody materials) in Oregon and Washington that are representative of the current fire regime. While forest surface pools were consumed in the fire, there were no significant differences in consumption between fire severity classes. 30 – 40% of carbon in each pool were left behind, even after high-severity fire. This research provides both a case study and a regional study on the effects of wildfire on carbon in forest surface pools. Both types of studies provide information that is beneficial for the study of post-fire carbon, giving insights into landscape level impacts or single extreme events.

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