Stefano Potter


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Burned Area and Carbon Emissions Across Northwestern Boreal North America from 2001–2019
Stefano Potter, S. Cooperdock, Sander Veraverbeke, Xanthe J. Walker, Michelle C. Mack, Scott J. Goetz, Jennifer L. Baltzer, L. L. Bourgeau-Chavez, Arden Burrell, Catherine M. Dieleman, Nancy H. F. French, Stijn Hantson, Elizabeth Hoy, Liza K. Jenkins, Jill F. Johnstone, Evan S. Kane, Susan M. Natali, James T. Randerson, M. R. Turetsky, Ellen Whitman, Elizabeth B. Wiggins, Brendan M. Rogers

Abstract. Fire is the dominant disturbance agent in Alaskan and Canadian boreal ecosystems and releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Burned area and carbon emissions have been increasing with climate change, which have the potential to alter the carbon balance and shift the region from a historic sink to a source. It is therefore critically important to track the spatiotemporal changes in burned area and fire carbon emissions over time. Here we developed a new burned area detection algorithm between 2001–2019 across Alaska and Canada at 500 meters (m) resolution that utilizes finer-scale 30 m Landsat imagery to account for land cover unsuitable for burning. This method strictly balances omission and commission errors at 500 m to derive accurate landscape- and regional-scale burned area estimates. Using this new burned area product, we developed statistical models to predict burn depth and carbon combustion for the same period within the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) core and extended domain. Statistical models were constrained using a database of field observations across the domain and were related to a variety of response variables including remotely-sensed indicators of fire severity, fire weather indices, local climate, soils, and topographic indicators. The burn depth and aboveground combustion models performed best, with poorer performance for belowground combustion. We estimate 2.37 million hectares (Mha) burned annually between 2001–2019 over the ABoVE domain (2.87 Mha across all of Alaska and Canada), emitting 79.3 +/- 27.96 (+/- 1 standard deviation) Teragrams of carbon (C) per year, with a mean combustion rate of 3.13 +/- 1.17 kilograms C m-2. Mean combustion and burn depth displayed a general gradient of higher severity in the northwestern portion of the domain to lower severity in the south and east. We also found larger fire years and later season burning were generally associated with greater mean combustion. Our estimates are generally consistent with previous efforts to quantify burned area, fire carbon emissions, and their drivers in regions within boreal North America; however, we generally estimate higher burned area and carbon emissions due to our use of Landsat imagery, greater availability of field observations, and improvements in modeling. The burned area and combustion data sets described here (the ABoVE Fire Emissions Database, or ABoVE-FED) can be used for local to continental-scale applications of boreal fire science.


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Statistical upscaling of ecosystem CO <sub>2</sub> fluxes across the terrestrial tundra and boreal domain: Regional patterns and uncertainties
Anna‐Maria Virkkala, Juha Aalto, Brendan M. Rogers, Torbern Tagesson, Claire C. Treat, Susan M. Natali, Jennifer D. Watts, Stefano Potter, Aleksi Lehtonen, Marguerite Mauritz, Edward A. G. Schuur, John Kochendorfer, Donatella Zona, Walter C. Oechel, Hideki Kobayashi, Elyn Humphreys, Mathias Goeckede, Hiroyasu Iwata, Peter M. Lafleur, Eugénie Euskirchen, Stef Bokhorst, Maija E. Marushchak, Pertti J. Martikainen, Bo Elberling, Carolina Voigt, Christina Biasi, Oliver Sonnentag, Frans‐Jan W. Parmentier, Masahito Ueyama, Gerardo Celis, Vincent L. St. Louis, Craig A. Emmerton, Matthias Peichl, Jinshu Chi, Järvi Järveoja, Mats Nilsson, Steven F. Oberbauer, M. S. Torn, Sang Jong Park, A. J. Dolman, Ivan Mammarella, Namyi Chae, Rafael Poyatos, Efrén López‐Blanco, Torben R. Christensen, Mi Hye Kwon, Torsten Sachs, David Holl, Miska Luoto
Global Change Biology, Volume 27, Issue 17

The regional variability in tundra and boreal carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes can be high, complicating efforts to quantify sink-source patterns across the entire region. Statistical models are increasingly used to predict (i.e., upscale) CO2 fluxes across large spatial domains, but the reliability of different modeling techniques, each with different specifications and assumptions, has not been assessed in detail. Here, we compile eddy covariance and chamber measurements of annual and growing season CO2 fluxes of gross primary productivity (GPP), ecosystem respiration (ER), and net ecosystem exchange (NEE) during 1990–2015 from 148 terrestrial high-latitude (i.e., tundra and boreal) sites to analyze the spatial patterns and drivers of CO2 fluxes and test the accuracy and uncertainty of different statistical models. CO2 fluxes were upscaled at relatively high spatial resolution (1 km2) across the high-latitude region using five commonly used statistical models and their ensemble, that is, the median of all five models, using climatic, vegetation, and soil predictors. We found the performance of machine learning and ensemble predictions to outperform traditional regression methods. We also found the predictive performance of NEE-focused models to be low, relative to models predicting GPP and ER. Our data compilation and ensemble predictions showed that CO2 sink strength was larger in the boreal biome (observed and predicted average annual NEE −46 and −29 g C m−2 yr−1, respectively) compared to tundra (average annual NEE +10 and −2 g C m−2 yr−1). This pattern was associated with large spatial variability, reflecting local heterogeneity in soil organic carbon stocks, climate, and vegetation productivity. The terrestrial ecosystem CO2 budget, estimated using the annual NEE ensemble prediction, suggests the high-latitude region was on average an annual CO2 sink during 1990–2015, although uncertainty remains high.

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Soil respiration strongly offsets carbon uptake in Alaska and Northwest Canada
Jennifer D. Watts, Susan M. Natali, C. Minions, D. A. Risk, Kyle A. Arndt, Donatella Zona, Eugénie Euskirchen, A. V. Rocha, Oliver Sonnentag, Manuel Helbig, Aram Kalhori, W. C. Oechel, Hiroki Ikawa, Masahito Ueyama, Rikie Suzuki, Hideki Kobayashi, Gerardo Celis, Edward A. G. Schuur, Elyn Humphreys, Yongwon Kim, Bang-Yong Lee, Scott J. Goetz, Nima Madani, Luke Schiferl, R. Commane, J. S. Kimball, Zhihua Liu, M. S. Torn, Stefano Potter, Jonathan Wang, M. Torre Jorgenson, Jingfeng Xiao, Xing Li, C. Edgar
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 16, Issue 8

Abstract Soil respiration (i.e. from soils and roots) provides one of the largest global fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) to the atmosphere and is likely to increase with warming, yet the magnitude of soil respiration from rapidly thawing Arctic-boreal regions is not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, we first compiled a new CO 2 flux database for permafrost-affected tundra and boreal ecosystems in Alaska and Northwest Canada. We then used the CO 2 database, multi-sensor satellite imagery, and random forest models to assess the regional magnitude of soil respiration. The flux database includes a new Soil Respiration Station network of chamber-based fluxes, and fluxes from eddy covariance towers. Our site-level data, spanning September 2016 to August 2017, revealed that the largest soil respiration emissions occurred during the summer (June–August) and that summer fluxes were higher in boreal sites (1.87 ± 0.67 g CO 2 –C m −2 d −1 ) relative to tundra (0.94 ± 0.4 g CO 2 –C m −2 d −1 ). We also observed considerable emissions (boreal: 0.24 ± 0.2 g CO 2 –C m −2 d −1 ; tundra: 0.18 ± 0.16 g CO 2 –C m −2 d −1 ) from soils during the winter (November–March) despite frozen surface conditions. Our model estimates indicated an annual region-wide loss from soil respiration of 591 ± 120 Tg CO 2 –C during the 2016–2017 period. Summer months contributed to 58% of the regional soil respiration, winter months contributed to 15%, and the shoulder months contributed to 27%. In total, soil respiration offset 54% of annual gross primary productivity (GPP) across the study domain. We also found that in tundra environments, transitional tundra/boreal ecotones, and in landscapes recently affected by fire, soil respiration often exceeded GPP, resulting in a net annual source of CO 2 to the atmosphere. As this region continues to warm, soil respiration may increasingly offset GPP, further amplifying global climate change.


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Fuel availability not fire weather controls boreal wildfire severity and carbon emissions
Xanthe J. Walker, Brendan M. Rogers, Sander Veraverbeke, Jill F. Johnstone, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Kirsten Barrett, Laura Bourgeau‐Chavez, Nicola J. Day, William J. de Groot, Catherine M. Dieleman, Scott J. Goetz, Elizabeth Hoy, Liza K. Jenkins, Evan S. Kane, Marc‐André Parisien, Stefano Potter, Edward A. G. Schuur, M. R. Turetsky, Ellen Whitman, Michelle C. Mack
Nature Climate Change, Volume 10, Issue 12

Carbon (C) emissions from wildfires are a key terrestrial–atmosphere interaction that influences global atmospheric composition and climate. Positive feedbacks between climate warming and boreal wildfires are predicted based on top-down controls of fire weather and climate, but C emissions from boreal fires may also depend on bottom-up controls of fuel availability related to edaphic controls and overstory tree composition. Here we synthesized data from 417 field sites spanning six ecoregions in the northwestern North American boreal forest and assessed the network of interactions among potential bottom-up and top-down drivers of C emissions. Our results indicate that C emissions are more strongly driven by fuel availability than by fire weather, highlighting the importance of fine-scale drainage conditions, overstory tree species composition and fuel accumulation rates for predicting total C emissions. By implication, climate change-induced modification of fuels needs to be considered for accurately predicting future C emissions from boreal wildfires.


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Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region
Susan M. Natali, Jennifer D. Watts, Brendan M. Rogers, Stefano Potter, S. Ludwig, A. K. Selbmann, Patrick F. Sullivan, Benjamin W. Abbott, Kyle A. Arndt, Leah Birch, Mats Björkman, A. Anthony Bloom, Gerardo Celis, Torben R. Christensen, Casper T. Christiansen, R. Commane, Elisabeth J. Cooper, Patrick Crill, C. I. Czimczik, S. P. Davydov, Jinyang Du, Jocelyn Egan, Bo Elberling, Eugénie Euskirchen, Thomas Friborg, Hélène Genet, Mathias Göckede, Jordan P. Goodrich, Paul Grogan, Manuel Helbig, Elchin Jafarov, Julie D. Jastrow, Aram Kalhori, Yongwon Kim, J. S. Kimball, Lars Kutzbach, Mark J. Lara, Klaus Steenberg Larsen, Bang Yong Lee, Zhihua Liu, M. M. Loranty, Magnus Lund, Massimo Lupascu, Nima Madani, Avni Malhotra, Roser Matamala, J. W. Mcfarland, A. David McGuire, Anders Michelsen, C. Minions, Walter C. Oechel, David Olefeldt, Frans‐Jan W. Parmentier, Norbert Pirk, Benjamin Poulter, William L. Quinton, Fereidoun Rezanezhad, David Risk, Torsten Sachs, Kevin Schaefer, Niels Martin Schmidt, Edward A. G. Schuur, Philipp Semenchuk, Gaius R. Shaver, Oliver Sonnentag, Gregory Starr, Claire C. Treat, Mark P. Waldrop, Yihui Wang, Jeffrey M. Welker, Christian Wille, Xiaofeng Xu, Zhen Zhang, Qianlai Zhuang, Donatella Zona
Nature Climate Change, Volume 9, Issue 11

Recent warming in the Arctic, which has been amplified during the winter1-3, greatly enhances microbial decomposition of soil organic matter and subsequent release of carbon dioxide (CO2)4. However, the amount of CO2 released in winter is highly uncertain and has not been well represented by ecosystem models or by empirically-based estimates5,6. Here we synthesize regional in situ observations of CO2 flux from arctic and boreal soils to assess current and future winter carbon losses from the northern permafrost domain. We estimate a contemporary loss of 1662 Tg C yr-1 from the permafrost region during the winter season (October through April). This loss is greater than the average growing season carbon uptake for this region estimated from process models (-1032 Tg C yr-1). Extending model predictions to warmer conditions in 2100 indicates that winter CO2 emissions will increase 17% under a moderate mitigation scenario-Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5-and 41% under business-as-usual emissions scenario-RCP 8.5. Our results provide a new baseline for winter CO2 emissions from northern terrestrial regions and indicate that enhanced soil CO2 loss due to winter warming may offset growing season carbon uptake under future climatic conditions.

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Increasing wildfires threaten historic carbon sink of boreal forest soils
Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Steven G. Cumming, Nicola J. Day, Claire E. Ebert, Scott J. Goetz, Jill F. Johnstone, Stefano Potter, Brendan M. Rogers, Edward A. G. Schuur, M. R. Turetsky, Michelle C. Mack
Nature, Volume 572, Issue 7770

Boreal forest fires emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere primarily through the combustion of soil organic matter1,2,3. During each fire, a portion of this soil beneath the burned layer can escape combustion, leading to a net accumulation of carbon in forests over multiple fire events4. Climate warming and drying has led to more severe and frequent forest fires5,6,7, which threaten to shift the carbon balance of the boreal ecosystem from net accumulation to net loss1, resulting in a positive climate feedback8. This feedback will occur if organic-soil carbon that escaped burning in previous fires, termed ‘legacy carbon’, combusts. Here we use soil radiocarbon dating to quantitatively assess legacy carbon loss in the 2014 wildfires in the Northwest Territories of Canada2. We found no evidence for the combustion of legacy carbon in forests that were older than the historic fire-return interval of northwestern boreal forests9. In forests that were in dry landscapes and less than 60 years old at the time of the fire, legacy carbon that had escaped burning in the previous fire cycle was combusted. We estimate that 0.34 million hectares of young forests (<60 years) that burned in the 2014 fires could have experienced legacy carbon combustion. This implies a shift to a domain of carbon cycling in which these forests become a net source—instead of a sink—of carbon to the atmosphere over consecutive fires. As boreal wildfires continue to increase in size, frequency and intensity7, the area of young forests that experience legacy carbon combustion will probably increase and have a key role in shifting the boreal carbon balance.