Nav: Home

UM study: Wildfires to increase in Alaska with future climate change

May 10, 2016

MISSOULA - Climate change is melting glaciers, reducing sea-ice cover and increasing wildlife activity - with some of the most dramatic impacts occurring in the northern high latitudes.

New research by University of Montana affiliate scientist Adam Young and UM fire ecology Associate Professor Philip Higuera projects an increased probability of fires occurring in Alaskan boreal forest and tundra under a warmer, drier climate. Their work recently was published in the journal Ecography.

The paper titled "Climatic thresholds shape northern high-latitude fire regimes and imply vulnerability to future climate change" is available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ecog.02205/abstract.

Young, also a doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho, projects that by the end of this century the probability of burning in many high-latitude ecosystems in Alaska will be up to four times higher than seen in recent decades. Tundra and the forest-tundra boundary, which have not burned often in the past, are particularly sensitive to projected changes in temperature and moisture. "We looked at the location of wildfires across Alaska during the past 60 years and, not surprisingly, found that they were most common in regions with warm, dry summers," Young said. "The more interesting result of our work is the emergence of a distinct temperature threshold that separates areas that have and have not burned in recent decades. Above this threshold, we see a sharp increase in the likelihood that a fire will occur in a region."

The research highlights that regions crossing this temperature threshold as a result of climate change are the most vulnerable to increased burning.

Boreal forests and tundra store an estimated 50 percent of Earth's soil carbon. Increased fire activity could release more stored carbon into the atmosphere, which would increase atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and potentially have global implications.

The researchers used a database of fire history, which has been maintained by the federal government since 1950, and combined it with information on vegetation and climate to develop statistical models that predict the most important controls of historic fire activity.

Young and Higuera expect their results will help scientists and mangers better understand when and where fires occur in northern high latitudes and how fire activity will change in the future.
-end-
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Joint Fire Science Program, and it includes scientists from the University of Illinois and the environmental consulting firm Neptune and Company Inc.

The University of Montana

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.