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Alaska Boreal Forest Soils Lab

Established in 1967 as the Forest Soils Lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, our team studies Alaska's boreal forest response to climate and environmental change.

We are also a shared use facility that supports UAF staff, students, and faculty.

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News and Events, click here

tree canopy
tree canopy
tree canopy
tree canopy


Our research focuses on the ecophysiological and ecohydrological responses of Interior Alaska's boreal forest to climate, environmental, and vegetation change.

The boreal forest is experiencing the impacts of climate change, including rising air temperatures, increased variability in precipitation, ecological drought, shifts in the timing of the growing season, changes in the climate conditions during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall), increased wildfire risk, and increased risk of damage from pathogens. The boreal forest is believed to be a bellwether for Arctic change, with the impacts of climate change experienced first compared to lower latitudes. To predict how the boreal forest will respond to climate change in the future, it is imperative to integrate our understanding of how forests responded to environmental stressors in the past with how forests are responding to current environmental stressors.


The field of Ecophysiology looks at plant, soil, or ecosystem physiological responses, like photosynthesis and water use, to climate, soil conditions, and other factors. Ecohydrology looks at how ecosystems use water from day-to-day, over a season, and over the years, and how this water use impacts soils, climate, and streams. 

Specific things we research include how plants use, store, and move water to the atmosphere. This water use impacts many things that are external to the plant, like drying the soil and wetting the atmosphere (contributing to creating clouds and rain). Measuring water use informs us about how the plant is responding to a variety of weather conditions, including very dry and very wet periods. Are they tolerating it, thriving in it, or shutting down? How do different species and plant types (shrubs, deciduous trees, evergreen trees) respond?  

We also explore how the timing of water availability and climate conditions affects plant growth, like wood growth and leaf development. We have sensors that let us know precisely when trees start and end their growth for that year. We are finding that climate change is impacting how much the trees are growing and when they start and stop.

Click here to learn about all our current projects.  

We are applying our data and knowledge about to inform people as to when they should harvest trees for firewood. Since the amount of water in trees varies over the year, the better times to harvest are those when the tree is naturally dry. This reduces the amount of time needed to dry the split and stacked wood before burning it to heat their homes. 

Click here to learn about the firewood project. 

News and Events

Jessie Young-Robertson, Sam Dempster, Matt Robertson, Helene Darrow at AGU 2022
Sam at his poster at AGU
Jessie at her poster at AGU

AGU 2022

Our team attended the fall American Geophysical Union meeting in 2022. Sam Dempster presented his URSA (Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Activity) research and was fully funded to attend with travel grants from URSA and Alaska Fire and Ice Epscor program. Jessie Young-Robertson presented her research on boreal tree water use and her work on psychological inclusivity in STEM fields. Her travel was fully funded by the Alaska Fire and Ice Epscor program and the Office of the Provost faculty travel grant program. Top - Pictured left to right are: Jessie Young-Robertson, Matt Robertson, Sam Dempster, Helene Darrow. Bottom - Sam Dempster and Jessie Young-Robertson at their posters.

News and Events

Please participate in our firewood survey!

We want to learn about your firewood use, collection and drying habits.

Click on this underlined link Alaska Firewood Info Survey  to access the survey.

First Friday Art Event, 2023

Jessie, Nathaniel, and Sam contributed artwork to IARC's 1st Friday event on December 1st, 2023. Nathaniel displayed cross sections of two tree cores (alder and white spruce), with staining that highlights the xylem cells. Jessie displayed three drawings of the complex Alaskan landscape, with some hidden critters. Sam displayed magnified and stained images of leaf surfaces that highlight their stomata and cells. More art can be found here

News and Updates

Click here to learn about news and updates from the lab

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