Chasing flames

Professor Stefan Doerr and Dr Cristina Santin have just returned from a very successful field campaign to the remote boreal forest of NW Canada.

FireThe Leverhulme Trust funded researchers work with the Canadian Forest Service and wildland fire fighters to determine the amount of charcoal produced during wildfires, which plays a major role in the effect of fires on the global carbon cycle. The team published updated figures on the global carbon cycle last month in a major review article on this topic (Santín et al. 2015. Towards a global assessment of pyrogenic carbon from vegetation fires. Global Change Biology; online early; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12985). 

In this latest field campaign, the team has instrumented both experimental forest fires (pictured) and actual wildfires that occurred in the region. The latter is experimentally very challenging and has rarely been achieved to date. It involved instrumenting unburned forest prior to the arrival of a fire front and recovering the data loggers shortly after the fire has passed. Despite the loss of some loggers due to the extreme heat, the researchers were able to collect a unique data set on temperature and heating duration for the different biomass components that get consumed or charred during burning. The preliminary outcomes of this work will be presented at the 2015 International Wildland Fire Conference in Korea later this year.