Conservation Matters June 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Climate change will alter wildfire risks around the world, says TTU study

A Texas Tech climate scientist said climate change is widely expected to disrupt future fire patterns around the world, with some regions, such as the western United States, seeing more frequent fires within the next 30 years.

In the study published in Ecosphere, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America, researchers used 16 different climate change models to generate one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change might affect global fire patterns. 

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and co-author of the study, was part of a team led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with an international team of scientists.

"Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world or relied upon only a handful of climate models," said Hayhoe, also an associate professor. "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."

By the end of the century, almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily because of increasing temperature trends. At the same time, fire activity could actually decrease around equatorial regions because of increased rainfall, particularly among the tropical rainforests.

"In the long run, we found what most fear—increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet," said lead author Max Moritz, a 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, but also they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss."

The projections emphasize how important it is for experts in conservation and urban development to include fire in long-term planning and risk analysis, Moritz said, who is based at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

Read the complete TTU news release.

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