Canadian Forest Service Publications

The association between Northern Hemisphere climate patterns and interannual variability in Canadian wildfire activity. 2011. Beverly, J.L.; Flannigan, M.D.; Stocks, B.J.; Bothwell, P. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 41(11):2193-2201.

Year: 2011

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 32894

Language: English

Availability: Order paper copy (free), PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/x11-131

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Wildfire impacts on ecological and socioeconomic systems are regulated, in part, by climate. Association between hemispheric-scale climate patterns and annual wildfire activity can be obscured by local factors that also control the initiation and spread of fires. Vegetation, topography, and fire suppression can be expected to influence conventional measures of annual wildfire activity such as area burned, effectively concealing evidence of broad-scale climate influences. This study investigates alternatives to area-burned statistics for quantifying annual wildfire activity in Canada in relation to Northern Hemisphere climate variability represented by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). We depart from conventional approaches by including socioeconomic measures of wildfire activity and by assessing spatially referenced wildfire data over units of observation chosen explicitly to diminish variability caused by factors unrelated to broad-scale climate. Our data-centred approach, combined with linear regression modelling, revealed that the AMO was positively correlated with national time series of very large fires (≥10 000 ha), wildfire-related evacuations, and fire suppression expenditures over the period 1975–2007. The AMO and wildfire activity were most closely coupled during a period of predominantly positive-phase Arctic Oscillation (AO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) between 1989 and 2001. Positive correlation between maximum evacuation wind speed and the AMO suggests that wind may be a causal factor in the AMO–wildfire relationship.