Research predicts extreme fires will increasingly be part of our global landscape

February 06, 2017

Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast as the global footprint of extreme fires expands, according to the latest research.

University of Tasmania Professor of Environmental Change Biology David Bowman led an international collaboration - including researchers from the University of Idaho and South Dakota State University - to compile a global satellite database of the intensity of 23 million landscape fires between 2002 and 2013.

Of the 23 million fires, researchers honed in on 478 of the most extreme wildfire events.

"Extreme fire events are a global and natural phenomenon, particularly in forested areas that have pronounced dry seasons," Professor Bowman said.

"With the exception of land clearance, the research found that extremely intense fires are associated with anomalous weather - such as droughts, winds, or in desert regions, following particularly wet seasons.

"Of the top 478 events we identified 144 economically and socially disastrous extreme fire events that were concentrated in regions where humans have built into flammable forested landscapes, such as areas surrounding cities in southern Australia and western North America."

Using climate change model projections to investigate the likely consequences of climate change, the research found more extreme fires are predicted in the future for Australia's east coast, including Brisbane, and the whole of the Mediterranean region - Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Turkey.

"The projections suggest an increase in the days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50 per cent in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere, and the European Mediterranean Basin," Professor Bowman said.

University of Idaho Assistant Professor Crystal Kolden said the United States had a much higher proportion of fire events become disasters than any other country in the study. Wildfire burned more than 10 million acres in the US in 2015, and cost over $2 billion to suppress.

"What is really novel about this study is that in the US, we tend to make the assumption that all large and intense fires are disasters, and that there is nothing we can do about it," Assistant Professor Kolden said.

"But that is not the case at all. What makes a fire event a disaster in the US is when key factors combine - low density housing amidst dense forests, the right climatic conditions, and a lack of fire preparedness on the part of humans.

"We can't stop big, intense fires from happening here, and they are increasing under climate change. However, in the western US, we can reduce the potential for fire disasters by both reducing forest density and improving mitigation and preparedness through the development of fire-resilient communities."

The research has been published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The research is released on the day that Professor Bowman's home state remembers the impact of 1967 bushfires which claimed the lives of 62 people, left 900 injured and more than 7000 homeless. The research resulting from these fires built the foundations of a globally relevant research effort in the field for Tasmania.
-end-


University of Tasmania

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.