Climate and fire largely control the productivity (“greenness”) and biodiversity of boreal forests in North America. Our research focuses on better understanding: 1) the patterns of, controls on, and recent changes in North American Boreal Forest “Browning" and the declining Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) observed in satellite records, and 2) the patterns of, controls on, and recent changes in North American Boreal Forest fire recovery and succession. Much of our effort has used the Landsat archive to analyze the patterns of wildfire and forest recovery along a transect cutting across central Canada; this study areas covers 3 Landsat rows x 25 paths with 2500 summer images. Key findings include: 1) Most (80-90%) of the recent NDVI trends in our study area are attributable to wildfire (areas that burned after ~1995 and also before ~1975 show browning; areas that burned in ~1975-1995 show greening). 2) There are a significant number of non-fire related patches that show either browning or greening; some of these patches are related to fires or human disturbances that aren't in our disturbance database, but others occur in wetter areas, where there is a general tendency toward browning with many specific cases of greening. 3) Various remote sensing metrics yield complementary information providing a clearer sense of the biophysical trends during succession. 4) We see evidence of accelerating succession from 1985-1995 to 2005-2015. This acceleration isn't dramatic, just 1-3 years during early recovery and more during later succession, but it is a consistent feature of the analysis. We are not seeing a systematic decline in old-stand LAI. While NDVI declines in old stands with the loss of deciduous trees, we are not seeing a systematic decrease in old stand LAI or wide spread mortality.
Goulden, M.; Czimczik, C.; Randerson, J. (2017): Shifting Patterns of Boreal Forest Succession and Browning Over the Last 30 Years. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract B33B-2089..