Fire zone

Tundra differences are because of thawing in the Anaktuvuk River burn area. These photos were taken four years apart.

FAIRBANKS - Eight summers ago, a bolt of lightning struck a dry tundra hillside in northern Alaska. Fanned by a warm wind that curled over the Brooks Range, the Anaktuvuk River fire burned for three months, leaving a scar visible from the International Space Station. The charred area was larger than Cape Cod.

While northern Alaska’s treeless terrain has not seen a repeat of the largest tundra fire in modern times, researchers have kept their eyes on the Anaktuvuk River site. They watched green plants return in great numbers. Zooming out a bit, they watched the smooth face of the landscape become pocked with thaw-pits.