Wildfire controls on land surface properties in mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests of Sierra Nevada and Klamath mountains, Western US

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This study examines the post-fire biogeophysical and biochemical dynamics after several high-severity wildfires that occurred in mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forest types in the Sierra Nevada and Klamath Mountains regions between 1986 and 2017. We found a consistent pattern of reduced leaf area index (LAI) in the first year after fire, followed by gradual recovery over the subsequent 25 years. Recovery rate varied between forest types. For example, average summer LAI for 16-25 years post-fire was 88% of the pre-fire average for mixed conifers in the Sierra Nevada, 64% for ponderosa pine in the Sierra Nevada, and 83% for mixed conifers in Klamath Mountains (63, 35, and 64% in winter, respectively). The slower recovery of LAI in ponderosa pine could be due to poor species diversity and drier climate. Summer and winter albedo increased progressively until 12 years post-fire in Sierra Nevada, while it continued to increase until 25 years post-fire in Klamath Mountains. Ponderosa pine had the highest summer (0.148 ± 0.001) and winter (0.5 ± 0.0033) albedos. Post-fire changes in evapotranspiration (ET) and gross primary productivity (GPP) were consistent with the changes in LAI. Both summer and winter ET and GPP returned to pre-fire levels by 25 years after fire in mixed conifers of both regions, while the ET and GPP did not recover to pre-fire levels in ponderosa pine. Wildfires increased the land surface temperature (LST) immediately after fire in summer. This effect was significantly higher in mixed conifers of the Sierra Nevada (11 ± 0.03 °C) compared to Klamath Mountains (7 ± 0.01 °C). Our results suggest that reduced ET, consistent with less leaf area and its associated reduced evaporative cooling is the main factor controlling the immediate post-fire warming effect of wildfires in these regions. The findings reported here can be used to understand ecological responses to wildfire in these and nearby ecoregions as they represent mean historical behavior across multiple wildfire events.

Publication Title

Agricultural and Forest Meteorology

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biochemical, biogeophysical, MODIS, post-fire recovery, remote sensing, wildfire