The rate of vegetation recovery from boreal wildfire influences terrestrial carbon cycle processes and climate feedbacks by affecting the surface energy budget and land-atmosphere carbon exchange. Previous forest recovery assessments using satellite optical-infrared normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and tower CO2 eddy covariance techniques indicate rapid vegetation recovery within 5–10 years, but these techniques are not directly sensitive to changes in vegetation biomass. Alternatively, the vegetation optical depth (VOD) parameter from satellite passive microwave remote sensing can detect changes in canopy biomass structure and may provide a useful metric of post-fire vegetation response to inform regional recovery assessments. We analyzed a multi-year (2003–2010) satellite VOD record from the NASA AMSR-E (Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS) sensor to estimate forest recovery trajectories for 14 large boreal fires from 2004 in Alaska and Canada. The VOD record indicated initial post-fire canopy biomass recovery within 3–7 years, lagging NDVI recovery by 1–5 years. The VOD lag was attributed to slower non-photosynthetic (woody) and photosynthetic (foliar) canopy biomass recovery, relative to the faster canopy greenness response indicated from the NDVI. The duration of VOD recovery to pre-burn conditions was also directly proportional (P < 0.01) to satellite (moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer) estimated tree cover loss used as a metric of fire severity. Our results indicate that vegetation biomass recovery from boreal fire disturbance is generally slower than reported from previous assessments based solely on satellite optical-infrared remote sensing, while the VOD parameter enables more comprehensive assessments of boreal forest recovery.
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