Climate change may spur rapid shifts in global wildfire patterns

April 8th, 2009 - 1:58 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 8 (ANI): A new analysis by scientists has determined that climate change would bring about rapid shifts in worldwide wildfire patterns, and those changes are coming fast.

The analysis was done by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with scientists at Texas Tech University.

Researchers used thermal-infrared sensor data obtained between 1996 and 2006 from European Space Agency satellites in their study of pyrogeography - the distribution and behavior of wildfire - on a global scale.

They not only got a global view of where wildfires occur, but they determined the common environmental characteristics associated with the risk of those fires.

They then incorporated those variables into projections for how future climate scenarios will impact wildfire occurrence worldwide.

The research was conducted with support from The Nature Conservancy as part of the organization’s effort to integrate information about global fire regimes into planning for biodiversity conservation.

“This is the first attempt to quantitatively model why we see fire where we see it across the entire planet,” said study author Max Moritz, assistant cooperative extension specialist in wildland fire at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources and co-director of the UC Center for Fire Research and Outreach.

“What is startling in these findings is the relatively rapid rate at which we’re likely to see very broad-scale changes in fire activity for large parts of the planet,” he added.

According to Moritz, the two essential suites of variables needed for fires describe the presence of sufficient vegetation to burn and the window in time when conditions are hot and dry enough for ignition to occur.

The researchers found that much of the planet will incur changes in fire activity, and this includes increases as well as decreases in the likelihood of fire.

The researchers identified specific areas where wildfire occurrence was rare in the past and projected to experience large increases in fire activity in the period 2010-2039 as ecosystems at risk of fire invasion.

Regions where fire was common in the past and projected to experience a large decrease were considered areas at risk of fire retreat.

These preliminary results show hotspots of fire invasion forming in parts of the western United States and the Tibetan plateau, while regions including northeast China and central Africa may become less fire-prone in the coming decades.

“Fire patterns are going to change, and we need to start thinking about what that means for ecosystems, and what our response should be,” said the research paper’s lead author, Meg Krawchuk, a UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow. (ANI)

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