Recent research has shown that Alaska’s wildfires are taking their toll on the quality of air. The US Geological Survey (USGS) statistics have shown that the uptick in blazes has been devastating the permafrost, tundra and carbon-rich boreal forests which are the main fenders against climate change in Alaska.
According to A. David McGuire, UCGS scientist, massive quantities of biomass and soil carbon have been stored in time due to the cold temperatures in Alaska. Now, because of these sudden warming temperatures, changes in stream flow, more frequent wildfires, and permafrost thaw the greenhouse gas exchange and carbon storage will be affected.
The vegetation and soils of Alaska contain around 58 percent of the United States carbon and the state presently absorbs about 3.7 metric tons every year from the atmosphere. The study’s data have reported that Alaska’s wildfires burn every year twice the area eaten away by wildfires in the other states and release more greenhouse gases than all those fires put together.
If temperatures continue to increase, these wildfires across Canada and the northern United States will increase in the following decades as well. Unfortunately, northern wildfires will now become known not just as a side effect but also as a possible cause of climate change.
According to Virginia Burkett, USGS chief climate scientist and Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change, this situation has been quite ignored until now. Moreover, it has an enormous influence of the carbon that is locked up in Alaska vegetation and soils. Scientists discovered that the balance of Alaska carbon release and storage was associated with wildfires.
In other words, wildfires could significantly decline this balance in the following years. However, this balance would be rebuilt in the absence of these fires. During a wildfire, carbon stored in the upper layers of soil and trees is released back into the atmosphere. In addition to this, the high temperatures expose the permafrost underneath, rich in carbon.
According to Burkett, carbon stored in temperate zone ecosystems is not as vulnerable as the one stored in high-latitude ecosystems, because average temperatures have a faster increase rate in the arctic and boreal regions during the rest of the century. Plus, this comparison shows how wildfires amplify the soil carbon losses in Alaska.