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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs / Forest Disturbance Processes / Science to support the National Fire and Fuels Strategy / Fire severity and ecosystem impacts immediately following an extreme fire event in northern Minnesota
Forest Disturbance Processes

Fire severity and ecosystem impacts immediately following an extreme fire event in northern Minnesota

Research Issue

The Pagami Creek Fire, which was started by lightning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), about 14 miles east of Ely, Minnesota on August 18, 2011, grew to be the largest fire in the BWCAW since 1894 (Figure 1). It burned over 38,000 hectares.

Accurate field estimates of disturbance allow us to provide a foundation for a high-profile, long-term research program to investigate spatial interactions of landscape conditions, fire behavior, resulting impacts, and ecosystem recovery.  Thus, we will be able to evaluate the extent to which pre-burn attributes constrain fire behavior and severity in time and space. Our field measurements will assess how fire severity influences C, N, and Hg soil pools, while the combination of pre and post-fire remote sensing will allow us to scale these relationships  up to determine how much C, N, and Hg was emitted during the fire.  The research will facilitate a more complete examination of spatial feedbacks underlying forest landscape structure, fire disturbance, and future patterns of ecosystem recovery.   We will establish a baseline of initial impacts at high resolution and large extent – including the initial loss of soil elements after the 2011-2012 winter – for which we have an unprecedented level of detailed pre-fire forest conditions. This baseline dataset will set the stage for several major programs of investigation that dovetail with ongoing research by our team (figure 8).

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

Research Partners


This project was funded by a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Ecosystem Program, the National Fire Plan and the US Forest Service.

Last Modified: 03/11/2020