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Project ID: 09-3-01-47

Year: 2009

Date Started: 07/01/2009

Date Completed: 01/07/2011

Title: Climate, Fire and Carbon: Tipping Points and Landscape Vulnerability in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Project Proposal Abstract: Current model projections suggest that, by the end of the 21st century, climate conditions like those of 1988 (the year of the well-known Yellowstone Fires) will represent close to the average year rather than an extreme year. This change will fundamentally alter the potential of western forests to sequester atmospheric carbon. Here, we hypothesize that vegetation communities will contribute differentially to future landscape C flux because of different sensitivities to future climate and fire combinations. We ask: (1) How great a change in climate and fire regime would be required to shift each of the dominant vegetation communities in the GYE from a net C sink to a net C source? (2) Do current projections indicate that changes of this magnitude are likely to occur in the next century, and if so, where do they occur? And (3) what are the integrated effects of changing climate, vegetation, and fire on spatial patterns of carbon flux across landscapes? We will combine state-of-the-art downscaled climate data, statistical fire modeling and ecosystem process modeling to explore landscape C flux in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Our results will (1) advance understanding of the effects of extreme climate on landscape C flux, (2) identify when, where, and under what range of conditions shifts in climate and fire could alter future C storage, (3) constrain understanding of landscape vulnerability to future climate and fire, and (4) help determine the magnitude of forest C feedbacks to climate. A large portion of the Rockies and Cascades are likely to experience similar moisture deficits as the GYE, suggesting our results will be broadly applicable to heterogeneous landscapes in the western U.S. Moreover, our research will push the frontiers of fire ecology to develop spatially and temporally explicit maps of carbon flux that can be used to manage western landscapes in the face of climate change.

Principal Investigator: Erica A. Smithwick

Agency/Organization: Pennsylvania State University

Branch or Dept: Department of Geography

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

William H Romme

Colorado State University

Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship

Co-Principal Investigator

Monica G. Turner

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Zoology

Co-Principal Investigator

Anthony L. Westerling

University of California-Merced

Federal Cooperator

Michael G. Ryan

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Federal Fiscal Representative

Susan T. Major

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Northern Rockies






Interior West



Interior West


Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print go to website 2871 Journal Article PNAS Early Edition
view or print   5321 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Climate Change May Produce Novel Climate-Fire-Vegetation Relationships in Greater Yellowstone During the 21st Century

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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