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A global assessment on the effects of wildfire on freshwater resources

Date: October 31, 2017

Addressing potential vulnerability to water security


Background

Large catastrophic wildfires not only endanger lives and property, they affect our freshwater resources. 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.

Research

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 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 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.

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%) 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%) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).

Findings

  • 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.

Featured Publication

A spatial evaluation of global wildfire-water risks to human and natural systems
Francois-Nicolas Robinne; Kevin D. Bladon; Carol Miller; Marc-Andre Parisien; Jerome Mathieu; Mike D. Flannigan, 2017



Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Francois-Nicolas Robinne Principal Investigator - University of Alberta Canada
Kevin D. Bladon Co-author - Oregon State University
Marc-Andre Parisie Co-author - Canadian Forest Service
Jerome Mathieu Co-author - University of Paris France
Mike D. Flannigan Co-author - University of Alberta Canada
Research Location: 
International