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Examining the utility of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System in boreal peatlands

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The Duff Moisture Code (DMC) and Drought Code (DC) components of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System are used by fire managers to assess the vulnerability of organic soils to ignition and depth of burn despite being developed for upland soils. Given the need to assess wildfire risk in peatlands, we compared the DMC and DC in eight peatlands located in five regions in boreal Canada with water table position (WT) and surface volumetric moisture content (VMC). The slope of the change in WT and DC relationship ranged greatly (–0.01 to –0.11 cm) between sites and years likely due to differences in site-specific peat properties, catchment water supply, and presence of seasonal ice. A DC of 400, which has been associated with wildfire vulnerability in uplands, corresponded to a seasonal drop in WT in the range of 4–36 cm. The slopes of the relationships between DMC and DC with 5 and 15 cm VMC also varied greatly between sites. Our findings suggest that these FWI components are suitable for predicting the general moisture status and fire danger in boreal peatlands. However, there is a need for a modified DC for specific peat types to indicate when the WT has reached a critical depth upon which fire danger increases. We also present a suggested framework for the development of a new peat moisture code within the FWI.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: McMaster Centre for Climate Change, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada. 2: Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 2E5, Canada. 3: Cold Regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5, Canada. 4: Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, Edmonton, AB T6H 3S5, Canada. 5: Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Davie, FL 33314, USA. 6: Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.

Publication date: 2012-01-30

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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