Date of Award
Master of Science (MSc)
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Peatlands cover 170 million hectares of Canada's land and are long thought to be resistant to consumption by wildfire. However, boreal peatlands are likely to become increasingly vulnerable to wildfire as climate change lowers water tables and exposes deeper peat to burning. Currently, the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System is used to assess vulnerability of peat to ignition and consumption, despite being developed for upland soils. Given the need to assess wildfire risk in peatlands, this study investigated the range and variability of key variables relevant to wildfire hydrology of the subsurface and canopy across five peatlands. Road impacted and drained peatlands were included to examine the influence of drying on afforestation (a surrogate for a future drier climate) and extend the range of parameterizations for peatlands.
Increased drying led to significant increases in canopy fuel loads coupled with increased interception (upwards of 97%) and canopy storage, highlighting failures of the current FWI rainfall routine. Increased drying led to enhanced transpiration across impacted (≈ 2.8 mm d-1) compared to pristine sites (≈ 0.68 mm d-1). However, increases in above ground vulnerability were somewhat offset by ecohydrological feedbacks serving to increase peat moisture retention in the drier sites. But the most severely impacted peatland displayed the poorest moisture retention qualities of all peatlands perhaps indicating the existence of a threshold response to drying induced afforestation on peat moisture retention properties.
Our findings suggest that modified FWI components are suitable for predicting the general moisture status and fire danger in boreal peatlands, highlighting key areas in the parameter to be improved.
Baisley, Steven A., "EFFECT OF DRYING INDUCED AFFORESTATION ON PEATLAND ECOHYDROLOGY: IMPLICATIONS FOR WILDFIRE VULNERABILITY" (2012). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7533.
McMaster University Library
Available for download on Tuesday, September 24, 2013