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Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team


Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team
Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory

400 N 34th Street, Suite 201
Seattle, WA 98103

(206) 732-7800

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Smoke Consequences of New Wildfire Regimes Driven by Climate Change

SFinished stampmoke from wildfires has adverse biological and social consequences, and various lines of evidence suggest that smoke from wildfires in the future may be more intense and widespread, demanding that methods be developed to address its effects on people, ecosystems, and the atmosphere.

FERA scientist Don McKenzie was commissioned by the Joint Fire Science Program to develop a conceptual framework for dynamic modeling of smoke from wildfires that could be applied under climate-change scenarios.(figure 1). Working with colleagues from U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain and Northern research stations; the University of North Carolina; and the University of Washington, McKenzie produced a set of guidelines for integrated modeling (McKenzie et al. 2014, table 1), along with the following modeling criteria and future research needs (McKenzie et al. 2014).


Key Points

  • Smoke from future wildfires will be an increasing hazard and feedback to climate.
  • Integrated models are needed to predict future smoke
  • Models must incorporate complex feedbacks across scales while being tractable

Modeling Criteria

  • Minimizing cumulative effects of errors, uncertainties, and biases
  • Algorithmic and computational feasibility
  • Transparency of outcomes
  • Robustness to future projections

Future Research Needs

  • Optimizing ensembles and coupled models
  • Understanding scaling and process complexity
  • Abrupt changes and extreme events, thresholds and tipping points 

McKenzie, D., U. Shankar, R.E. Keane, E.N. Stavros, W.E. Heilman, D.G. Fox, and A.C. Riebau. 2014. Smoke consequences of new fire regimes driven by climate change. Earth’s Future DOI: 10.1002/2013EF000180.

Final report to the Joint Fire Science Program

  • Uma Shankar, University of North Carolina
  • Bob Keane, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Warren Heilman, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Natasha Stavros, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (University of Washington)
  • Doug Fox, Cooperative institute for Research in the Atmosphere, University of Colorado
  • Al Riebau, Nine Points South Technical Pty Ltd, Western Australia

Project Lead: Don McKenzie

Flowchart of modeling system

Figure 1 from McKenzie et al. 2014: Master flowchart for a modeling system to predict smoke consequences of changing fire regimes in a warming climate. Items in boxes are the elements of the modeling system.  Italicized terms are processes that should be represented explicitly by model(s).  LSFs = land-surface feedbacks.  GHGs = greenhouse gases. Note that explicit methodology for representing elements and processes is not specified.  Some feedbacks associated with coupled modeling are not included (see text). Components inside the highlighted area need to be accounted for but are not modeled explicitly within the system.  For our purposes, radiative forcing at the global scale is fixed (e.g., RCPs = representative concentration pathways), but radiative feedback from aerosols, clouds, and GHGs is dynamic at the scale of regional climate.

Finding provided the Joint Fire Science Program

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