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A global assessment on the effects of wildfire on freshwater resources: Addressing potential vulnerability to water security

Photo of The global composite index of the wildfire-water risk shows spatial distribution of risk from wildfire impacts on water resources. About half of the area globally (51 percent) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).The global composite index of the wildfire-water risk shows spatial distribution of risk from wildfire impacts on water resources. About half of the area globally (51 percent) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).Snapshot : Freshwater resources are vital to humans and our natural environment. Water systems around the world are at risk resulting from population growth, urban development, ecosystem degradation, climate change, and over the past several years, from large catastrophic wildfires. A team of scientists developed the first global evaluation of wildfire risks to water security; an important step in creatinga global database that maps key wildfire-water risk indicators.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Miller, Carol L.  
Research Location : Global
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1409

Summary

Large catastrophic wildfires not only endanger lives and property, they affectfreshwater resources for humans. Over the past several years, large wildfires with extreme fire behavior have occurred in the United States, Canada, and Chile, resulting in an interest in the wide range of consequences these natural disasters can have on the reliability of surface freshwater resources. Safeguarding water use for human activities and ecosystems is required for sustainable development. To create a tool to address wildfire-induced risks, scientists from Canada, the United States, and France developed a spatially explicit index providing the first global assessment of wildfire impacts on water supply. These risks include post-fire damage to watersheds, how much area is impacted, soil erosion response to heavy rains, sedimentation, and the risk of these factors over time. They did this by adapting the well-structured analytical European Environment Agency’s Driving Forces-Pressure-State-Impact-Responses Framework to conduct their analysis of global issues impacting freshwater quality and availability. The objectives of their analysis were to: (1) develop a reference wildfire-induced risks spatial analysis framework at a global scale, (2) understand the current geography of the wildfire-induced risks according to the different criteria involved, and (3) raise awareness of wildfire-induced risks issues to global water security challenges. This work provides a global overview of the wildfire-water risk to water security. This spatial index may help further investigate hydrological systems where the water supply is already under pressure because of urban development, ecosystem degradation, or climate change. As indices are geared toward environmental performance improvement, this framework introduces a tool for long-term monitoring of actions toward the reduction of post-fire threats to water security. This work could also help to reconsider the place of fire in the landscape and to foster the use of “good fires” as a means to preserve water-related ecosystem services.

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Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Oregon State University Canadian Forest Service
  • University Paris
  • University of Alberta, Canada