UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS DRIVING WILDLAND FIRE IGNITIONS IN ALASKAN TUNDRA
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Wildland fire is a dominant disturbance agent that drives ecosystem change, climate forcing, and carbon cycle in the boreal forest and tundra ecosystems of the High Northern Latitudes (HNL). Tundra fires can exert a considerable influence on the local ecosystem functioning and contribute to climate change through biogeochemical and biogeophysical effects. However, the drivers and mechanisms of tundra fires are still poorly understood. Research on modeling contemporary fire occurrence in the tundra is also lacking. This dissertation addresses the overarching scientific question of “What environmental factors and mechanisms drive wildfire ignition in Alaskan tundra?” Environmental factors from multiple aspects are considered including fuel type and state, fire weather, topography, and ignition source. First, to understand the spatial distribution of fuel types in the tundra, multi- year satellite observations and field data were used to develop the first fractional coverage product of major fuel type components across the entire Alaskan tundra at
30 m resolution. Second, to account for the primary ignition source of fires in the HNL, an empirical-dynamical modeling framework was developed to predict the probability of cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning across Alaskan tundra, through the integration of Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model and machine learning algorithm. Finally, environmental factors including fuel type distribution, fuel moisture state, WRF simulated ignition source and fire weather, and topographical features, were combined with empirical modeling methods to understand their roles in driving wildland fire ignitions across Alaskan tundra from 2001 to 2019. This work demonstrates the strong capability for accurate prediction of CG lightning and wildland fire probabilities, by incorporating dynamic weather models, empirical methods, and satellite observations in data-scarce regions like the HNL. The developed models present a novel component of fire danger modeling that can considerably strengthen the current capability to forecast fire occurrence and support operational fire management agencies in the HNL. In addition, the insights gained from this research will allow for more accurate representation of wildfire ignition probabilities in studies focused on assessing the impact of the projected climate change in HNL tundra which has largely absent in previous modeling efforts.