Quantifying the Distribution and Landscape Controls of Peatlands and Organic Layer Thickness within Alaska

Friday, 19 December 2014
Bruce K Wylie, USGS EROS, Sioux Falls, SD, United States, Neal Pastick, Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls, SD, United States, Torre Jorgenson, Alaska Ecoscience, Fairbanks, AK, United States, Shawn Nield, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Palmer, AK, United States and Kristofer D Johnson, U.S. Forest Service, Newtown Square, PA, United States
The northern circumpolar region is estimated to contain 50 % of the global belowground carbon pool and is experiencing climate change at rates higher than anywhere else globally. Surface organic horizons associated with these immense carbon pools are important to ecosystem functioning in terms of soil moisture and temperature regulations, permafrost degradation, successional trajectories, and soil respiration levels. However, fire-induced changes to surface organics and their distribution are poorly understood, especially on landscape scales. These ambiguities make future predictions uncertain for these significant carbon pools, which have the potential for significant feedbacks to global warming. Moreover, given the significant impacts and increasing severity and amount of fires in boreal systems, the spatial quantification of post-fire surface organic thickness is important for ecosystem model calibrations and comparisons, and can improve future projections of vegetation types and albedo, carbon stocks and fluxes, and future thaw depths. Here we present the results of pioneering studies that quantified the distribution and controls of peatlands and soil organic layer thickness in Alaska through the use of statistical models, field data, spatial analyses, and remote sensing (Landsat). Our empirical modeling approach enabled us to produce medium-resolution (30-m pixels) maps of peatlands and organic layer thickness throughout Alaska, which is important for land management practices and enhances the understanding of the risk and feedbacks associated with fires and climate feedbacks.