Understanding Climate Change by Studying the Soil

Thea Whitman studies the effects of forest fires on soil microbial communities. On her website, she writes:

Boreal forest soils are among the richest stocks of terrestrial carbon (C) in the world, primarily as a result of their low temperatures and slow decomposition rates. The fate of these large C stocks in the face of climate change is an area of critical concern, particularly when considered in the context of predictions of increasing wildfire. Although soil microbes are the core drivers of the soil organic C cycle, the effects of wildfire on boreal soil microbial communities remain poorly characterized.

Female researcher taking samples of soil

The 2014 fires in the Northwest Territories were exceptional: they were the largest recorded burn in a single fire season, with some fires burning unusually intensely, leaving essentially no living vegetation, and others resulting in “fire refugia” of unburned or only lightly burned areas. We are collaborating with researchers from the Canadian Forest Service and the University of Alberta, who, in addition to linking remote-sensing data to a comprehensive on-the-ground site characterization and measurements of burn severity, will also collect an unprecedented set of soil samples from these fires. Characterizing the microbiome of these soils will offer us a profound level of insight into the effects of fire on soil microbial communities, and leverage an extensive field campaign to bridge the scale from satellites to microbes.

For more information on Thea Whitman’s research visit https://whitmanlab.soils.wisc.edu/ 

Principal Investigator

Thea Whitman portrait

Thea Whitman

Soil Science


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