“This is one of the surprises that we haven’t talked about much,” said Virginia Burkett, chief climate scientist at the USGS. “It has tremendous implications for the carbon that is locked up in Alaska soils and vegetation.”
A record wildfire year – such as 2015 which was the worst in Alaska for a decade – had a measurable effect on the release of carbon dioxide and methane, which are the main drivers of climate change.
“Our scientists found that the balance of carbon storage versus release in Alaska was strongly linked with wildfires,” Burkett said. “In years where there was high wildfire activity the net carbon balance declined dramatically, and then it would rebuild in the absence of fire.”