B. M. Wotton


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Mapping smouldering fire potential in boreal peatlands and assessing interactions with the wildland–human interface in Alberta, Canada
Sophie Wilkinson, Alexander K. Furukawa, B. M. Wotton, J. M. Waddington
International Journal of Wildland Fire, Volume 30, Issue 7

Treed peatlands exhibit both crown and smouldering fire potential; however, neither are included in Canadian wildfire management models and, as such, they are not formally represented in management decision-making. The lack of smouldering fire risk assessment is a critical research gap as these fires can represent heavy resource draws and are predominant sources of smoke, air pollutants and atmospheric carbon. Here, for the first time, we combine existing knowledge of the controls on smouldering peat fire with expert opinion-based weightings through a multi-criteria decision analysis, to map the smouldering fire potential (i.e. hazard) of treed peatlands in the Boreal Plains, Alberta, Canada. We find that smouldering potential varies considerably between treed peatlands and that areas of sparser peatland coverage may contain high smouldering-potential peatlands. Further, we find that treed peatlands are a common feature in the wildland–human interface and that proportionally, the area of high smouldering potential is greater closer to roads compared with farther away. Our approach enables a quantitative measure of smouldering fire potential and evidences the need to incorporate peatland–wildfire interactions into wildfire management operations. We suggest that similar frameworks could be used in other peatland dominated regions as part of smouldering fire risk assessments.


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The effects of black spruce fuel management on surface fuel condition and peat burn severity in an experimental fire
Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, Dan K. Thompson, B. M. Wotton, Steven Hvenegaard, Dave Schroeder, J. M. Waddington
Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Volume 48, Issue 12

In the boreal plains ecozone, black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.) peatlands can represent large parts of the expanding wildland–urban interface (WUI) and wildland–indust...

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Did enhanced afforestation cause high severity peat burn in the Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire?
Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, Mike D. Flannigan, B. M. Wotton, J. M. Waddington
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 13, Issue 1

Climate change mediated drying of boreal peatlands is expected to enhance peatland afforestation and wildfire vulnerability. The water table depth–afforestation feedback represents a positive feedback that can enhance peat drying and consolidation and thereby increase peat burn severity; exacerbating the challenges and costs of wildfire suppression efforts and potentially shifting the peatland to a persistent source of atmospheric carbon. To address this wildfire management challenge, we examined burn severity across a gradient of drying in a black spruce dominated peatland that was partially drained in 1975−1980 and burned in the 2016 Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire. We found that post-drainage black spruce annual ring width increased substantially with intense drainage. Average (±SD) basal diameter was 2.6 ± 1.2 cm, 3.2 ± 2.0 cm and 7.9 ± 4.7 cm in undrained (UD), moderately drained (MD) and heavily drained (HD) treatments, respectively. Depth of burn was significantly different between treatments (p < 0.001) and averaged (±SD) 2.5 ± 3.5 cm, 6.4 ± 5.0 cm and 36.9 ± 29.6 cm for the UD, MD and HD treatments, respectively. The high burn severity in the HD treatment included 38% of the treatment that experienced combustion of the entire peat profile, and we estimate that overall 51% of the HD pre-burn peat carbon stock was lost. We argue that the HD treatment surpassed an ecohydrological tipping point to high severity peat burn that may be identified using black spruce stand characteristics in boreal plains bogs. While further studies are needed, we believe that quantifying this threshold will aid in developing effective adaptive management techniques and protecting boreal peatland carbon stocks.