Global and regional trends and drivers of fire under climate change

Jones, Matthew W. ORCID:, Abatzoglou, John T., Veraverbeke, Sander, Andela, Niels, Lasslop, Gitta, Forkel, Matthias, Smith, Adam J. P., Burton, Chantelle, Betts, Richard A., van der Werf, Guido R., Sitch, Stephen, Canadell, Josep G., Santín, Cristina, Kolden, Crystal, Doerr, Stefan H. and Le Quere, Corinne ORCID: (2022) Global and regional trends and drivers of fire under climate change. Reviews of Geophysics, 60 (3). ISSN 8755-1209

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Recent wildfire outbreaks around the world have prompted concern that climate change is increasing fire incidence, threatening human livelihood and biodiversity, and perpetuating climate change. Here, we review current understanding of the impacts of climate change on fire weather (weather conditions conducive to the ignition and spread of wildfires) and the consequences for regional fire activity as mediated by a range of other bioclimatic factors (including vegetation biogeography, productivity and lightning) and human factors (including ignition, suppression, and land use). Through supplemental analyses, we present a stocktake of regional trends in fire weather and burned area (BA) during recent decades, and we examine how fire activity relates to its bioclimatic and human drivers. Fire weather controls the annual timing of fires in most world regions and also drives inter-annual variability in BA in the Mediterranean, the Pacific US and high latitude forests. Increases in the frequency and extremity of fire weather have been globally pervasive due to climate change during 1979–2019, meaning that landscapes are primed to burn more frequently. Correspondingly, increases in BA of ∼50% or higher have been seen in some extratropical forest ecoregions including in the Pacific US and high-latitude forests during 2001–2019, though interannual variability remains large in these regions. Nonetheless, other bioclimatic and human factors can override the relationship between BA and fire weather. For example, BA in savannahs relates more strongly to patterns of fuel production or to the fragmentation of naturally fire-prone landscapes by agriculture. Similarly, BA trends in tropical forests relate more strongly to deforestation rates and forest degradation than to changing fire weather. Overall, BA has reduced by 27% globally in the past two decades, due in large part to a decline in BA in African savannahs. According to climate models, the prevalence and extremity of fire weather has already emerged beyond its pre-industrial variability in the Mediterranean due to climate change, and emergence will become increasingly widespread at additional levels of warming. Moreover, several of the major wildfires experienced in recent years, including the Australian bushfires of 2019/2020, have occurred amidst fire weather conditions that were considerably more likely due to climate change. Current fire models incompletely reproduce the observed spatial patterns of BA based on their existing representations of the relationships between fire and its bioclimatic and human controls, and historical trends in BA also vary considerably across models. Advances in the observation of fire and understanding of its controlling factors are supporting the addition or optimization of a range of processes in models. Overall, climate change is exerting a pervasive upwards pressure on fire globally by increasing the frequency and intensity of fire weather, and this upwards pressure will escalate with each increment of global warming. Improvements to fire models and a better understanding of the interactions between climate, climate extremes, humans and fire are required to predict future fire activity and to mitigate against its consequences.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Research Funding: H2020 Societal Challenges (H2020 PRIORITÉ Défis de société). Grant Numbers: 776810, 641816, 101003890; H2020 Industrial Leadership (H2020 Priority Industrial Leadership). Grant Number: 776186; Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Grant Number: 016.Vidi.189.070; H2020 Excellent Science (H2020 Priority Excellent Science). Grant Number: 101000987; Newton Fund; UKRI | Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Grant Numbers: NE/T001194/1, NE/T003553/1, NE/V01417X/1; Spanish State Research Agency Ramón y Cajal Programme. Grant Number: RYC2018-025797-I; Royal Society. Grant Number: RP\R1\191063; Australian National Environmental Science Program; Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Progamme. Grant Number: GA01101; UK department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Uncontrolled Keywords: burned area,climate change,fire weather,land use,lightning,vegetation,geophysics,sdg 15 - life on land,sdg 13 - climate action ,/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/1900/1908
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia Research Groups/Centres > Theme - ClimateUEA
UEA Research Groups: University of East Anglia Schools > Faculty of Science > Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Climatic Research Unit
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Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 24 May 2022 14:57
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2023 01:35
DOI: 10.1029/2020RG000726


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