International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Interactive effects of vegetation, soil moisture and bulk density on depth of burning of thick organic soils

B. W. Benscoter A E , D. K. Thompson B , J. M. Waddington B , M. D. Flannigan C D , B. M. Wotton C , W. J. de Groot C and M. R. Turetsky A

A University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada.

B McMaster University, School of Geography and Earth Sciences, Hamilton, ON, L8S 4K1, Canada.

C Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Sault Ste Marie, ON, P6A 2E5, Canada.

D University of Alberta, Department of Renewable Resources, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2H1, Canada.

E Corresponding author. Present address: Florida Atlantic University, Department of Biological Sciences, 3200 College Avenue, Davie, FL 33314, USA. Email: brian.benscoter@fau.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 20(3) 418-429 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF08183
Submitted: 29 October 2008  Accepted: 8 September 2010   Published: 5 May 2011

Abstract

The boreal biome is characterised by extensive wildfires that frequently burn into the thick organic soils found in many forests and wetlands. Previous studies investigating surface fuel consumption generally have not accounted for variation in the properties of organic soils or how this affects the severity of fuel consumption. We experimentally altered soil moisture profiles of peat monoliths collected from several vegetation types common in boreal bogs and used laboratory burn tests to examine the effects of depth-dependent variation in bulk density and moisture on depth of fuel consumption. Depth of burning ranged from 1 to 17 cm, comparable with observations following natural wildfires. Individually, fuel bulk density and moisture were unreliable predictors of depth of burning. However, they demonstrated a cumulative influence on the thermodynamics of downward combustion propagation. By modifying Van Wagner’s surface fuel consumption model to account for stratigraphic changes in fuel conditions, we were able to accurately predict the maximum depth of fuel consumption for most of the laboratory burn tests. This modified model for predicting the depth of surface fuel consumption in boreal ecosystems may provide a useful framework for informing wildland fire management activities and guiding future development of operational fire behaviour and carbon emission models.

Additional keywords: bog, boreal, carbon, fire, ground-layer fuels, peat, peatland, smouldering, Sphagnum, surface fuel combustion.


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