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Nat Commun. 2018 Aug 2;9(1):3041. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05457-1.

Wildfire as a major driver of recent permafrost thaw in boreal peatlands.

Author information

1
Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2R3, Canada.
2
Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, T1K 6T5, Canada.
3
Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Edmonton, AB, T6H 3S5, Canada.
4
Cold Regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3C5, Canada.
5
Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2R3, Canada. olefeldt@ualberta.ca.

Abstract

Permafrost vulnerability to climate change may be underestimated unless effects of wildfire are considered. Here we assess impacts of wildfire on soil thermal regime and rate of thermokarst bog expansion resulting from complete permafrost thaw in western Canadian permafrost peatlands. Effects of wildfire on permafrost peatlands last for 30 years and include a warmer and deeper active layer, and spatial expansion of continuously thawed soil layers (taliks). These impacts on the soil thermal regime are associated with a tripled rate of thermokarst bog expansion along permafrost edges. Our results suggest that wildfire is directly responsible for 2200 ± 1500 km2 (95% CI) of thermokarst bog development in the study region over the last 30 years, representing ~25% of all thermokarst bog expansion during this period. With increasing fire frequency under a warming climate, this study emphasizes the need to consider wildfires when projecting future circumpolar permafrost thaw.

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