Effects of Intensified 21st Century Drought on the Boreal Forest of Alaska

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Glenn Patrick Juday1, Claire M Alix2, Ryan Jess1 and Thomas A. Grant III1, (1)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (2)Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, Paris, France
A long term perspective on several quasi-decadal cycles of intensifying drought stress across boreal Alaska has been synthesized from monitoring of forest reference stands at Bonanza Creek LTER, Interior Alaska Research Natural Areas, and tree ring sampling across Alaska. The Alaska boreal forest is largely made up of tree populations with two growth responses to temperature increases. Negative responders are more common, and found across the warm, dry Interior. Positive responders are largely in western Alaska, a maritime climate region near the Bering Sea, and at high elevation of the Brooks and Alaska Ranges. Following the North Pacific climate regime shift in 1976-77, negative responder Interior white and black spruce, aspen, and birch all experienced major growth reductions, particularly in warm drought years. Elevated summer temperatures and low annual precipitation of recent decades at low elevations of the Tanana and central Yukon Valleys were outside the values which previously defined the species distributions limits, Long term survival prospects are questionable. Simultaneously, recent elevated temperatures were associated with growth increases of positive responders. On fertile floodplain sites of the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, the growth rate of positive responding white spruce is now greater than negative responders for the first time in centuries. NDVI trends in recent decades confirm these opposite growth trends in their respective regions. During peak warm/dry anomalies, forest disturbance, an important process for tree regeneration over the long term, intensified in boreal Alaska. Several insect outbreaks of wood-boring and defoliating species associated with warm temperature/drought stress anomalies appeared, many of them severe, and some not previously known to outbreak. Significant tree injury (e.g. top dieback) and mortality resulted. Wildfire extent and severity increased and reached record levels. The overall pattern has been described as biome shift. Future research is needed on the distribution of boreal forest refuge habitats in the Interior, drought effects on natural tree regeneration and growth/health of young tree populations, carbon accumulation profiles under the modern drought regime compared to earlier, and the genetic disruption of biome shift.