Canadian Forest Service Publications

Potential climate change impacts on fire intensity and wildfire suppression thresholds in Canada. 2017. Wotton, M.; Flannigan, M.; Marshal, G. Environmental Research Letters. 12:9

Year: 2017

Available from: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 38915

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7e6e

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Much research has been carried out on the potential impacts of climate change on forest fire activity in the boreal forest. Indeed, there is a general consensus that, while change will vary regionally across the vast extent of the boreal, in general the fire environment will become more conducive to fire. Land management agencies must consider ways to adapt to these new conditions. This paper examines the impact of that changed fire environment on overall wildfire suppression capability. We use multiple General Circulation Models and carbon emission pathways to generate future fire environment scenarios for Canada's forested region. We then use these scenarios with the Canadian Forest Fire Behaviour Prediction System and spatial coverages of the current forest fuel composition across the landscape to examine potential variation in key fire behaviour outputs that influence whether fire management resources can effectively suppress fire. Specifically, we evaluate how the potential for crown fire occurrence and active growth of fires changes with the changing climate. We also examine future fire behaviour through the lens of operational fire intensity thresholds used to guide decisions about resources effectiveness. Results indicate that the proportion of days in fire seasons with the potential for unmanageable fire will increase across Canada's forest, more than doubling in some regions in northern and eastern boreal forest.

Plain Language Summary

The goal of this research was to examine how often wildfires in Canada’s forests may become unsuppressable in the future. There are well-known and operationally used fireline intensity values that define the upper limits of effectiveness for different fire suppression resources like fire crews, bulldozers and airtankers dropping water. We linked climate change scenarios with models of fire behaviour and fuels from across Canada to examine how the number of days above various key fire behaviour thresholds changed under several different scenarios of future weather. Results show that the proportion of days when wildfire are unmanageable may more than double in the future in some regions of Canada. These results coupled with other results that predict more fires across the landscape indicate that wildfire management will become increasingly more challenge in future decades as the climate changes.

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