You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Scaling Up Ecosystem Impacts of the Pagami Creek Fire in Northern Minnesota

Photo of Figure 1. Contrasts of fire severity (light: a,b; severe (severe: c, d) for the Pagami Creek Fire. Remotely-sensed estimates of fire
severity such as the relative difference normalized burn ratio (RdNBR) are most strongly related to tree impacts. Loss of C, N, and Hg
from the forest floor were most strongly related to soil burn severity indices measured at the point of sampling, where the sampling
ring in b & d are 30 cm in diameter. Brian Sturtevant, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Figure 1. Contrasts of fire severity (light: a,b; severe (severe: c, d) for the Pagami Creek Fire. Remotely-sensed estimates of fire severity such as the relative difference normalized burn ratio (RdNBR) are most strongly related to tree impacts. Loss of C, N, and Hg from the forest floor were most strongly related to soil burn severity indices measured at the point of sampling, where the sampling ring in b & d are 30 cm in diameter. Brian Sturtevant, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Quantifying fire severity is critical to understanding the ecosystem impacts of wildfire. Forest Service research demonstrates the magnitude of ecosystem impacts from large wildfires, the challenges of relating those impacts to repeatable and scalable fire severity indices, and the application of remote sensing to help scale severity and ecosystem impacts of large wildfires.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Sturtevant, Brian R.Kolka, Randy
Gustafson, Eric J. 
Research Location : Superior National Forest, northeastern Minnesota
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1168

Summary

Fire severity, the impact of the fire on an ecosystem, is among the most challenging dimensions of fire to quantify empirically. Forest Service researchers measured fire severity of the Pagami Creek wildfire that burned nearly 100,000 acres in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota using multiple standardized indices. They compared these indices with ecosystem processes including loss of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and mercury (Hg) from soils and forest floor and subsequent aspen regeneration. Emissions from the wildfire were estimated as the annual equivalent C emissions from 50,000 sport utility vehicles emissions, the N required to fertilize 163,000 acres of corn, and approximately 9 percent of the 2010 Hg emissions for the state Minnesota. These losses were primarily from the forest floor and strongly related to soil post-fire severity indices measured at very fine spatial scales (less than 1 meter). Aspen regeneration was unrelated to the normalized burn ratio, but strongly related to prefire aspen abundance, each measured using satellite-based remote sensing. The research demonstrates (1) forest fires have large consequences for ecosystem processes such as biogeochemical cycling and forest vegetation dynamics; and (2) the importance of both scalable and repeatable measures of fire severity related to these crucial ecosystem processes.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Iowa State University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Dakota State University
  • University of Maine
  • University of Wisconsin Madison

Strategic
Program Areas

Priority
Areas