Thursday, 3 August 2017

East Devon's pebblebed heaths > How research into their recovery following the wildfires will 'inform internationally significant climate change research'

There were terrible heath fires on Woodbury Common this spring:
Futures Forum: The future of East Devon's pebblebed heaths

A research project at the University of Exeter has cast its eye over the issues:
East Devon heathland wildfire site, focus of globally important Exeter University research project | Exeter Chamber

And this includes the effect of wild fires on climate change:

Scientists assessing Woodbury Common fire site in global warming investigation

By DanielClark | Posted: July 20, 2017
The site of April's major gorse fire on Woodbury Common is being assessed by scientists as part of an important research project into the effect of wildfires on global warming.

The blaze at the East Devon heathland on April 23 saw more than around 50 hectares of heathland was destroyed.

More than 20 fire engines and over 160 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze which took more than eight hours to extinguish.

Since then, a team of University of Exeter scientists from the University's wildFIRE lab have been conducting weekly field visits to the site since the fire to assessing the impact of the fire.
Read more Green shoots of grass begin to grow two months on from Woodbury Common fire

Plants convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to energy during the process of photosynthesis, allowing them to grow and reproduce.

The scientists' mission is to determine what happens to the carbon held in plants when they burn, and in particular the overall affect of fire on atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that warms the earth's atmosphere.

Ultimately, the team's work will help determine the role and effect of wildfires globally, before they become more prevalent as temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent through global warming, and they are also examining whether there is credibility behind the hypothesis that wildfires have some long-term benefits for the earth's climate.

Clinton Devon Estate's Pebblebed Heaths Site Manager, Kim Strawbridge, said: "We are keen to support science and learning whenever possible so are really pleased to be able to work with Exeter University's wildFIRE lab.

Read more Warning issued over risks fire poses to Devon's treasured landscapes

"Not only will this improve our understanding of the site's recovery post fire, but it enables us to contribute to the wider understanding of fire in carbon cycling, informing internationally significant climate change research."

PhD researcher Matthew Jones said that the recent wildfire on the Pebblebed Heaths presents a "unique" opportunity to investigate these questions because the fire affected an accessible area from which rainwater washes directly into a single stream flowing off the common.

He added: "It is vital that we understand what happens to the carbon held in plants when they are burnt because this is set to become an increasingly important part of the carbon cycle as the earth warms.

"In particular, we want to determine how much carbon from the burnt vegetation ends up in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas in the long term, and conversely, how much is converted to charcoal and soot and stored on land and in the ocean.

Read more Dramatic pictures show before and after effects of Woodbury Common fire

"This will help us determine the long-term effect that fires have on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the carbon cycle as a whole."

Dr Claire Belcher, who heads up the wildFIRE lab, added: "The varied nature of vegetation at the common, a mix of grassland, heathland and tree stands, makes it a perfect case study to analyse charcoal from across the site and monitor the ecosystem over time to see how species recover, or die.

"Some trees, such as pines, may have been protected from the flames by thick bark, while other individuals may have been killed by smouldering soil. By tracking how the ecosystem recovers at the common we can begin to understand the long-term implications of fire activity on carbon stocks and ecosystems."

The team's work is supported by a wealth of information about the environment and ecology of the common as a result of the management and monitoring activities of the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust.

Read more Ten years before wildlife will recover from Woodbury Common fire, experts say

Scientists assessing Woodbury Common fire site in global warming investigation | Devon Live

This is the research website:
wildFIRE Lab | Wildfire research at the University of Exeter

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