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Using a combination of field and laboratory work, as well as satellite and airborne observations, NASA is launching a study of the effects of Arctic wildfires in Alaska on the surrounding habitat and people's health, as well as how the increased frequency of these events affects climate forecasting.
Wildfires in the Arctic are usually started by lightning strikes and left to burn unless they get too close to infrastructure or people, according to a statement by NASA. However, as a result, the fires tend to spread out and consume large areas of vegetation.
Fires - Part - Ecosystem - Fire - Cycle
"Fires are a natural part of the ecosystem, but what we're seeing is an accelerated fire cycle: we are getting more frequent and severe fires and larger burned areas," Liz Hoy, a boreal fire researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the statement.
Richard Chen, a graduate student at the University of Southern California, was sampling the soil for NASA's ABoVE campaign in an area where a fire had taken place in Alaska.
Hoy - Part - NASA - Vulnerability - Experiment
Hoy also works as part of NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), a field campaign that examines the resilience of Arctic and boreal ecosystems and societies in response to changes in the environment.
Wildfires in the Arctic contribute to carbon emissions created by the burning of a thick, carbon-rich layer of soil, which also acts as an insulation for the permafrost — a frozen layer of ground that lies beneath the soil.
Soil - Cooler - Lid - Hoy - Permafrost
"When you burn the soil on top it's as if you had a cooler and you opened the lid," Hoy said. "The permafrost underneath thaws and you're allowing the soil to decompose and decay, so you're releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere."
The thawing of this layer of ground also causes land subsidence...
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