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Project ID: 05-2-1-45

Year: 2005

Date Started: 05/12/2005

Date Completed: 07/10/2009

Title: Does Prescribed Burning in Southern Forests Release Significant Amounts of Mercury to the Atmosphere?

Project Proposal Abstract: Mercury (Hg) emissions from prescribed fire present a potential impact on air quality that could motivate regulators to further restrict prescribed burning. Atmospheric deposition of Hg (originating from industiral sources) to forests is well documented, and the prescribed burning of two to four million acres per year in the South recycles an unknown (but potentially significant) amoun of Hg into the atmosphere and surface waters by volatilization and post-fire runoff. This and other environmental concerns present a significant challenge to local land managers who use prescribed fire. Given the present level of public and regulatory concern with Hg, we submit that now is the time to accurately quantify the amount of Hg released from prescribed fires in the South. Our objectives are 1) to estimate local and South -wide emission of Hg due to prescribed fire, and 2) to test the hypothesis that Hg in ashen fire debris is leached inot and subsequently retained in mineral soil. Increased retention of Hg in mineral soils as a result of fire may mitigate the environmental impact of fire-related emissions because Hg volatilization during future fires would be reduced and the retained Hg would be less likely to enter surface mineral soil soon before and immediately after individual prescribed fires. We will assess fire's influence on Hg storage in mineral soil by determinin Hg in the mineral soil and forest floor of paired areas that have been managed with or without prescribed fires for many years. We intend to make these measurments across broad regions of the South to probide land managers and policy makers with estimates of Hg release or retention under different local condition, such as fuel loads, fire regimes, and Hg content of the forest floor and mineral soil.

Principal Investigator: Thomas A. Waldrop

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: SRS-Department of Forest Resources

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

John Stanturf

Forest Service

SRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Athens GA

Federal Cooperator

Thomas A. Waldrop

Forest Service

SRS-Department of Forest Resources

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network




Great Basin

Great Plains

Lake States

Oak Woodlands

Northern Rockies




Southern Rockies



There are no project locations identified for this project.

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   1532 Government Publication A Low-Level Mercury Laboratory Positions the Southern Research Station to Address Important Mercury Questions
view or print   2819 Journal Article Water, Air, and Soil Pollution
    5054 Field Demonstration/Tour Southern Blue Ridge Project Field Tour
    5012 Poster Impact of Prescribed Fire on Mercury Cycling in Southeastern U.S. Forests
  go to website 5213 Website Web posting of data
    5052 Conference/Symposia/Workshop 3rd Annual Southern Appalachian FLN Meeting
    5053 Field Demonstration/Tour Stand Replacement Prescribed Fires for Regenerating Table Mountain Pine
    6846 Invited Paper/Presentation Impact of Prescribed Fire on Mercury Cycling in Southeastern U.S. Forests
    5705 Field Demonstration/Tour Impacts of Fuel Reduction Treatments on Vegetation, Fuels, Fire Behavior, Wildlife, Soils, and Tree Diseases
    5706 Poster A Low-Level Mercury Laboratory Positions the Southern Research Station to Address Important Mercury Questions

Supporting Documents

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