Abstract

RUSSIAN JOURNAL OF FOREST SCIENCE, 2019, No. 5, P. 410-422 DEPTH OF PEAT BURNING AND CARBON LOSSES FROM AN UNDERGROUND FOREST FIRE A. A. Sirin 1 , D. A. Makarov 1 , A. A. Maslov 1 , I. Gummert 2 , Ya. I. Gul’be 1 1 Institute of Forest Science, Russian Academy of Sciences, Sovetskaya st. 21,Uspenskoe, Moscow region, 143030 Russia E-mail: sirin@ilan.ras.ru 2 University of Greifswald, Soldmannstrasse 15, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany Received 13 February 2019 The underground (peat) fires lead among forest fires by the volumes of material burned per unit area and, accordingly, put the greatest impact on climate change. However, soil carbon losses and emissions to the atmosphere are especially difficult to assess for these fires. The depth of peat burning out and soil carbon losses for an 9-hectare site with a variable original tree stand composition, that was burned in a 2010 forest fire in Moscow Oblast, were determined by means of restoration of the pre-fire soil surface using root necks of stumps and peat characteristics in the burned and adjacent intact areas. The median depth of burning out was 15±8 (14) cm, with local variations from 13±5 (11) to 20±9 (19) m. The depth of burning out has grown with an increase of relative height and reached maximum on aspen-dominated locations. Using the data on layer-by-layer bulk density, ash content, and carbon content in peat, we calculated the dependence of the carbon volume on the depth of peat, and using it and the burning out depth we estimated the fire-related carbon losses. The median carbon loss was 9.8±5.57 (9.22) kg m-2 with local variations from 8.61±3.75 (7.39) to 12.9±6.18 (12.3) kg m-2. This equals to a one-time emission of 400 t*CO2*ha-1 and is at least 1.5 times greater than possible CO2 emissions from the biomass losses from the original forest stand with a timber yield of over 280 m3 ha-1. The results correspond to the upper level of soil carbon losses assessed by foreign authors and support the idea that the contribution of underground (peat) fires has been underestimated in the boreal zone as compared with the tropics and, generally, within the problem of forest and peatland influence on atmospheric gas composition and climate. Key words: forest fires, underground fires, peat fires, peatlands, peat, carbon, climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide. 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