Document Type


Publication Date



Michigan Tech Research Institute


Tundra ecosystems contain some of the largest stores of soil organic carbon among all biomes worldwide. Wildfire, the primary disturbance agent in Arctic tundra, is likely to impact soil properties in ways that enable carbon release and modify ecosystem functioning more broadly through impacts on organic soils, based on evidence from a recent extreme Anaktuvuk River Fire (ARF). However, comparatively little is known about the long-term impacts of typical tundra fires that are short-lived and transient. Here we quantitatively investigated how these transient tundra fires and other landscape factors affected organic soil properties, including soil organic layer (SOL) thickness, soil temperature, and soil moisture, in the tussock tundra. We examined extensive field observations collected from nearly 200 plots across a wide range of fire-impacted tundra regions in AK within the scope of NASA's Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment. We found an overall shallower SOL in our field regions (∼15 cm on average) compared to areas with no known fire record or the ARF (∼20 cm or thicker), suggesting that estimations based on evidence from the extreme ARF event could result in gross overestimation of soil organic carbon (SOC) stock and fire impacts across the tundra. Typical tundra fires could be too short-lived to result in substantial SOL consumption and yield less robust results of SOL and carbon storage. Yet, repeated fires may amount to a larger amount of SOC loss than one single severe burning. As expected, our study showed that wildfire could affect soil moisture and temperature in the tussock tundra over decades after the fire, with drier and warmer soils found to be associated with more frequent and severe burnings. Soil temperature was also associated with vegetation cover and air temperature.

Publication Title

Environmental Research Letters

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Publisher's PDF

Included in

Soil Science Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.