You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Climate-induced Variations in Global Wildfire Danger from 1979 to 2013

Photo of 2012 Wenatchee Complex, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, WASH.  Kari Greer - Creative Commons2012 Wenatchee Complex, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, WASH. Kari Greer - Creative CommonsSnapshot : Identifying the driving factors of contemporary wildfire activity changes to ensure that wildfires are effectively managed to promote healthy ecosystems while minimizing negative socio-economic impacts.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Jolly, William M.  
Research Location : Global
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 820

Summary

Fires play an essential ecological role in flammable ecosystems: some are managed to clear forests, promote grazing and establish plants, while others are suppressed to protect human lives and property, regardless of how they ignite. The driving factors of contemporary wildfire activity changes must be understood to ensure that wildfires are effectively managed to promote healthy ecosystems while minimizing negative socio-economic impacts. Wildfire activity is driven by three key factors; fuels, sources of ignition, and weather (temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, and wind speed). Of the three factors, weather is the most variable and largest driver of regional burned area. So Forest Servicd scientists separated weather from the other driving factors to isolate the impacts of climate change on wildland fire potential. Research on scientific data collected from 1979 to 2013 show changes in climate as the driving factor, not fuels and sources of ignition, in the increased trends in fire weather by 18.7 percent and fire season length by 108.1 percent noted across the globe. Scientists found while fire seasons aren’t getting consistently longer everywhere, unusually long fire seasons have been more frequent across much of the globe, even in areas such as Australia and the global boreal forests where significant long-term trends were absent.

When studying changes in global fire activity over time, it is difficult to determine causes to changes in fire weather and fire season length. Fuels and sources of ignition aside, weather (temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, and wind speed) is the most variable and largest driver of regional burned area. The methodology used in this study to explore and explain complex observed variations in fire activity is relevant when applied to any given geographic area whether it is local, regional, national, or international. Understanding what is driving these trends can help managers toward mitigating increased wildfire potential, which can have pronounced global socio-economic, ecological, and climate system impacts.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Zachary A. Holden, US Forest Service Region 1
  • David M. J. S. Bowman, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Tasmania
  • Grant J. Williamson
  • Mark A. Cochrane
  • Patrick H. Freeborn, Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence (GSCE), South Dakota State University

Strategic
Program Areas

Priority
Areas