Climate Change and Boreal Forest Fires: What does the future hold?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 10:00 AM AKDT
Mike Flannigan, University of Alberta

Mike Flannigan, University of Alberta


Wildland fire is a common occurrence resulting from interactions between climate/weather, vegetation, and people. Our climate and associated day-to-day weather may be changing rapidly, due to human activities that may have dramatic and unexpected impacts on regional and global fire regimes. Existing studies suggest a general overall increase in area burned and fire occurrence, although there is a lot of spatial variability, with some areas of no change or even decreases in area burned and occurrence. The onset of climate change has been rapid and more significant in boreal regions as compared to other parts of the world. Fire activity has already been increasing in many parts of the boreal regions, and many studies suggest that this trend will continue and may even intensify. There is a potential for positive feedback as boreal ecosystems contain 30-40% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, with much of this in peatlands that may be vulnerable to increased fire activity and fire severity (depth of burn). 


A warmer world means a longer fire season, more lightning activity, which is responsible for most of the area burned in boreal ecosystems, and drier fuels that would contribute to fire occurrence and spread. In terms of fire management, enhanced fire danger rating systems that accurately predict the spatial and temporal variability in fire danger can help us adapt to a warmer world.

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