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Effects of fire on regional evapotranspiration in the central Canadian boreal forest

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Bond-Lamberty, Ben; Peckham, Scott D.; Ewers, Brent E.; Gower, Stith T.
boreal forest; wildfire; stand age; modeling; disturbance; evapotranspiration; black spruce
Global Change Biology;
Changes in fire regimes are driving the carbon balance of much of the North American boreal forest, but few studies have examined fire-driven changes in evapotranspiration (ET) at a regional scale. This study used a version of the Biome-BGC process model with dynamic and competing vegetation types, and explicit spatial representation of a large (106 km2) region, to simulate the effects of wildfire on ET and its components from 1948 to 2005 by comparing the fire dynamics of the 1948-1967 period with those of 1968-2005. Simulated ET averaged, over the entire temporal and spatial modeling domain, 323 mm yr/1; simulation results indicated that changes in fire in recent decades decreased regional ET by 1.4% over the entire simulation, and by 3.9% in the last 10 years (1996-2005). Conifers dominated the transpiration (EC) flux (120 mm yr/1) but decreased by 18% relative to deciduous broadleaf trees in the last part of the 20th century, when increased fire resulted in increased soil evaporation, lower canopy evaporation, lower EC, and a younger and more deciduous forest. Well- and poorly drained areas had similar rates of evaporation from the canopy and soil, but EC was twice as high in the well-drained areas. Mosses comprised a significant part of the evaporative flux to the atmosphere (22 mm yr/1). Modeled annual ET was correlated with net primary production, but not with temperature or precipitation; ET and its components were consistent with previous field and modeling studies. Wildfire is driving significant changes in hydrological processes by affecting mean stand age, forest species, and energy balance. These changes, particularly in poorly drained areas, may control the future carbon balance of the boreal forest.
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