Climate Change to Disrupt Fire Patterns Worldwide

Climate change has long been expected to disrupt future fire patterns across the globe, and a new analysis of 16 climate models has only confirmed what many scientists had long feared.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and in collaboration with an international team of scientists, found that by the end of this century almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily as a result of increasing temperature trends.



Ironically, fire activity could drop in equatorial regions, particularly throughout tropical rainforests, as a result of an increase in rainfall.

Confirmation of Worst Fears

The study was published on the 12th of June in the journal Ecosphere and was based on 16 different climate change models, together generating what the researchers labeled one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change may affect global fire patterns.

“In the long run, we found what most fear — increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet,” said study lead author Max Moritz, fire specialist in UC Cooperative Extension. “But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising.”

“These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affect people’s livelihoods,” Moritz added, “but they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss.”

Comprehensive and Robust Modelling

The researchers combined over a decade of satellite-based fire records with historical climate observations and model simulations of future change. They documented gradients between fire-prone and fire-free areas of the planet, and quantified the environmental factors believed to be at the heart of these patterns. They then used these relationships to determine how future climate change may end up driving future fire activity throughout the coming decades.

“Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world, or relied upon only a handful of climate models,” said study co-author Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. “Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate.”

The fire models in this study are based on climate averages that include mean annual precipitation and mean temperature of the warmest month. These variables tend to control long-term biomass productivity and how flammable that fuel can get during the fire season, the researchers said.

Variables that reflect more ephemeral fluctuations in climate, such as annual rainfall shifts due to El Niño cycles, were not included because they vary over shorter periods of time, and future climate projections are only considered representative for averages over time periods of 20-30 years or longer, the authors said.

Near-term Uncertainty, Long-term Certainty

The analysis found that the greatest disagreements between models and data occurred over the next few decades. Currently, the data does not agree as to whether fire activity will increase or decrease for more than half the planet.

On the other hand, some areas of the world — such as the western United States — show a high level of agreement in climate models — both near- and long-term — resulting in a strong consensus that those regions should start to expect more fire.

Experts in conservation and urban development will do well to look closely at these consensus-projections as they determine long-term planning and risk analysis, added Moritz.

“When many different models paint the same picture, that gives us confidence that the results of our study reflect a robust fire frequency projection for that region,” said Hayhoe. “What is clear is that the choices we are making as a society right now and in the next few decades will determine what Earth’s climate will look like over this century and beyond.”

“We need to learn how to coexist with fire,” said Moritz.

Study co-author David Ganz, who was director of forest carbon science at The Nature Conservancy at the time of the study, noted the significance of the findings for populations that rely upon fire-sensitive ecosystems.

“In Southeast Asia alone, there are millions of people that depend on forested ecosystems for their livelihoods,” he said. “Knowing how climate and fire interact are important factors that one needs to consider when managing landscapes to maintain these ecosystem goods and services.”

Source: UC Berkeley
Image Source: Kai Schreiber

7 thoughts on “Climate Change to Disrupt Fire Patterns Worldwide”

  1. Just read my previous comment and noticed correction needed:

    Should have been ‘Joseph’ with his 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine.

  2. Climate Change is the norm. All history tells us this is so.

    Of course this means some places will be drought and others wet. Jacob in the Bible predicted such quite a while ago and all came true.

    When drought, winds and lightning coincide there are fires. The only difference these days is that we put them out.

    Go figure………

    1. yes, climate changes naturally. but the extreme, rapid, and tremendously catastrophic climate change we are causing is not. otherwise, this wouldn’t be such an important issue.

      water, food, and safety are threatened by the current changes we are causing. too bad we don’t have more societal foresight… and too many people spreading false messages… ahem.

  3. james kasengele

    Mother Planet Earth in its Silent Voice seems to be saying “give Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser”. But our Corporate Business houses seem only wanting to be ever minting from the Ground of the Earth without REPLENISHING it. I mean doing Green Business so it seems they that Used their Backyards much are More at Risk than the Considered Premitive Ones. One Green I sign off.

  4. Please tell these global warming fiasco to those idiots in Washington that it is real. Boy how much I want to see those congressional repug’s got caught by this kind of fire to later realized that Al Gore and the scientist was right.

  5. Dear Mr. Hill, thank you for the interesting article.
    If you are a Christian, probably, you would be interested to visit my website http://, Folder Patterns, Patterns #8 and #11.
    The changes of climate reveal the progress of the latent processes of disintegration: the set of the energy fields (the firmament) that sustains existence and functioning of the Earth is collapsing and “bleeds” energy. The potency of destruction caused by current cyclones, tornado, droughts, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters, during which the energy is released, exceeds any “norms” experienced before and cannot be evaluated by “averages”: they are not natural events. Nothing in human power can stop climate changes, and none of mathematical models has capacity of prediction of time and intensity of these processes: all models and interpretation of the results obtained with them lack the foundation – knowledge of the energy fields that accommodate life of the planet. It means that the current science cannot predict how much time the processes of collapse will take: the final disintegration might happen tomorrow, or thousand years later.
    In general, I think that mankind should begin to think in categories of survival; for instance, preparation for mass relocation of population, use of solar energy, changes in agriculture (e.g., underground facilities), and so on.
    Best wishes to you,

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