Canadian Forest Service Publications

Climate change presents increased potential for very large fires in the contiguous United States. 2015. Barbero, R.; Abatzoglou, J.T.; Larkin, N.K.; Kolden, C.A.; Stocks, B. International Journal of Wildland Fire 24:892-899.

Year: 2015

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 36392

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1071/WF15083

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Abstract

Very large fires (VLFs) have important implications for communities, ecosystems, air quality and fire suppression expenditures. VLFs over the contiguous US have been strongly linked with meteorological and climatological variability. Building on prior modelling of VLFs (>5000 ha), an ensemble of 17 global climate models were statistically downscaled over the US for climate experiments covering the historic and mid-21st-century periods to estimate potential changes in VLF occurrence arising from anthropogenic climate change. Increased VLF potential was projected across most historically fire-prone regions, with the largest absolute increase in the intermountain West and Northern California. Complementary to modelled increases in VLF potential were changes in the seasonality of atmospheric conditions conducive to VLFs, including an earlier onset across the southern US and more symmetric seasonal extension in the northern regions. These projections provide insights into regional and seasonal distribution of VLF potential under a changing climate, and serve as a basis for future strategic and tactical fire management options.

Plain Language Summary

Very large fires (VLFs), generally the top 5 or 10% of the largest fires, have important implications for communities, ecosystems, air quality and fire suppression expenditures. We used 17 global climate models to estimate potential changes in VLF occurrence arising from anthropogenic climate change. We identified geographic hotspots of changing VLF occurrences. We predict an increase in VLF potential across most historically fire-prone regions, with the largest absolute increase in the intermountain West and Northern California. We also predict changes in the seasonality of atmospheric conditions conducive to VLFs, including an earlier onset across the southern US and a seasonal extension in the northern regions. This information may be useful in devising climate adaptation strategies for ecosystems and communities and help prioritise potential mitigation strategies.