In October 2016 the WildFIRE Lab headed north in search of charcoal.
The majority of research undertaken as part of the WildFIRE lab is done so in the lab itself using specialised equipment to burn vegetation, wood etc to help us better understand wildfires. Therefore, any opportunity to study a real-world fire is great for the lab and when possible we go out to assess the damage caused by these fires and collect charcoal for analysis.
On the 11th of June 2015 a fire occurred on Winter Hill, Bolton, UK. Winter Hill is a heathland dominated by moss, heather and grass, the 2015 fire covered an area of one kilometre by 500 metres burning much of the surrounding vegetation. Drone footage capturing the aftermath of the fire shows the extent of fire damage to the heathland. Luckily the WildFIRE Lab’s resident fire chaser, Dr Victoria Hudspith, was in the area and managed to head to the site after the fire had been extinguished. Fire severity across the burn scar was assessed and charcoal samples collected.
On the 19th of October 2016 Dr Mark Grosvenor, Dr Victoria Hudspith and Stacey New ventured back to Winter Hill to assess vegetation regrowth on the fire scar and collect any charcoal that may have remained from the fire. The same sites from which charcoal had been collected the previous year were revisited allowing us to assess the level of vegetation regrowth and collect some more charcoal, always a good thing!
The charcoal that Dr Hudspith collected in June 2015 and the charcoal that was collected in October 2016 will be analysed by Stacey as part of her PhD research looking at the effect of wildfires in temperate ecosystems. The primary technique used in Stacey’s research is reflected light microscopy; the charcoal is embedded in resin and reflectance measurements taken using a reflectance microscope, this method allows researchers to gain quantitative information about charcoal.
The main aim of sample collection at Winter Hill was to provide a spatial assessment of reflectance across a site, to assess vegetation regrowth and to attempt to link both of these to fire severity. Ultimately, fire on heathlands like Winter Hill although costly and damaging to the environment enable researchers to gain a valuable insight into the behaviour of real-world wildfires.
Blogged by Stacey New