How does Wildfire Severity Influence Soil Black Carbon in a Minnesota Boreal Forest?

Friday, 19 December 2014: 2:55 PM
Jessica R Miesel, Michigan State University, Department of Forestry, East Lansing, MI, United States, William C Hockaday, Baylor University, Waco, TX, United States and Randy K Kolka, USDA Forest Service, Grand Rapids, MN, United States
Black carbon (BC) is perceived to be among the most stable forms of carbon (C) and is produced during forest fires via thermal decomposition of organic matter. The factors that contribute to BC formation during fires are poorly understood, although abundant evidence shows that BC may play an important role in nutrient availability when incorporated into soil. How will predicted increases in future wildfire frequency and severity impact the natural formation and ecological function of BC in forest soil? We investigated the effects of fire severity on forest soil in two forest cover types following a major 2011 wildfire event in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area in northern Minnesota, USA. We sampled the organic horizon and mineral soil (0-10 cm) from stands dominated by jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb., hereafter: conifer) and stands dominated by aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx., hereafter: deciduous) within two months after fire. We used cross-polarization and Bloch decay 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and a molecular mixing model to investigate soil organic matter (SOM) composition across a gradient of fire severity in both forest cover types. For both forest types, the BC percent of soil organic carbon (SOC) observed was greatest in moderate-severity areas for the organic horizon, whereas it was greatest in high-severity areas for the mineral soil. Our results to date show that total soil BC stocks increased with fire severity in conifer forest, whereas no clear trend was observed in deciduous forest. Carbohydrate stocks were similar in both forest types and decreased with fire severity. These results suggest that increases in fire severity expected to occur under future climate scenarios may lead to changes in SOM composition and dynamics that in turn influence post-fire forest recovery and C uptake.