A year after the wildfires in northern Saskatchewan, a team of scientists have gone to the burned boreal forest to conduct research into how fire plays a role in the way northern forests are rapidly changing.

A team from NASA called the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment teamed up with researchers from the University of Saskatchewan to do the research near La Ronge, Sask. 

Researchers with soil

Researchers dig into the soil at the forest fire site to discover how much carbon was emitted during the fires last year. (Nicole Lavergne-Smith (CBC))

The goal is to discover how much carbon was emitted in this forest during the fire, and how the fire impacts this forest moving forward.

The carbon emitted during the fire is discovered through digging into the soil to see how deep the fire went.

The researchers say that with these fires, the landscape of these forests dramatically change because different types of trees and vegetation thrive under the new conditions. 

Dr. Jill Johnstone, associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Saskatchewan, works with the team of researchers to discover how the landscape of these forests change after burning, and how this will affect climate change and future fires in the region.

She said that after a fire, deciduous vegetation can grow better under the new conditions than the coniferous trees that were burnt during the fire. 

"If we see wide-spread transitions from conifer cover to deciduous cover, that actually has wide-spread repercussions for the entire planet," said Johnstone.

Dr. Jill Johnstone

Dr. Jill Johnstone, associate professor in the Department of Biology at University of Saskatchewan, is working with a team to research how fire changes the landscape of boreal forests in Northern Saskatchewan. (Nicole Lavergne-Smith (CBC))

She says that deciduous cover in our northern forests will affect oceans and weather patterns because the deciduous trees act as a water pump.

She also said that if the landscape changed to deciduous vegetation as a result of the fire, that may act as a fire-break in the future. 

"Deciduous forests burn less well," said Johnstone. "If the fires move more slowly, there's less area being burned. Wide-scale changes from a conifer dominated to deciduous dominated forest could actually slow down the acceleration of fire that we expect with climate warming."

She said that allowing fires to burn under safe conditions around communities multiple times may help the shift to a deciduous dominated forest.

"That might make the communities safer from fire in the future."

However, she said that deciduous does burn under extreme fire conditions.

"If the climate shift is strong enough that we're getting a lot of extreme fire weather, then this isn't going to make much of a difference," said Johnstone. "But in that transitional period, while things are warming during this century, it might be really important."