Climate change increases frequency of wildfires globally: Study

Published at ScienceBrief.org, the updated review on the link between climate change and risks of wildfires focuses on articles relevant to the fires in western US and southeastern Australia that raged during the 2019-2020 season.

By   |  Published: 25th Sep 2020  6:29 pm
A Joshua Tree burns during the Bobcat Fire in Juniper Hills, California. Photo: AFP

London: New research adds to the growing body of evidence that climate change increases the frequency and severity of fires in many regions of the world.

Published at ScienceBrief.org, the updated review on the link between climate change and risks of wildfires focuses on articles relevant to the fires in western US and southeastern Australia that raged during the 2019-2020 season.

The ScienceBrief Review in January looked at 57 peer-reviewed papers on the link between climate change and wildfire risk.

“The western US is a hot spot for increases in fire weather caused by climate change, and it is completely unsurprising that wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense in the region,” said study author Matthew Jones from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.

Fire weather refers to periods with a high fire risk due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and often high winds.

The western US is among the regions where the trends in fire weather have been most pronounced in the past at least 40 years.

“The western US is now more exposed to fire risks than it was before humans began altering the global climate by using fossil energy on a grand scale,” Jones added.

Regardless of the ignition source, warmer, drier forests are primed to burn more regularly than they were in the past.

According to the researchers, climate models indicate that fire weather will continue to rise this century in many parts of the world, and increasingly so for each added degree of global warming.

A switch to an economy supported by renewable energy sources is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on fire risk.

The analysis of more than 100 studies published since 2013 showed strong consensus that climate change promotes the weather conditions on which wildfires depend, increasing their likelihood.

Natural variability is superimposed on the increasingly warm and dry background conditions resulting from climate change, leading to more extreme fires and more extreme fire seasons.

Land management can enhance or compound climate-driven changes in wildfire risk, either through fuel reductions or fuel accumulation as an unintended by-product of fire suppression.

According to the study, fire suppression efforts are made more difficult by climate change.

“There is an unequivocal and pervasive role of climate change in increasing the intensity and length in which fire weather occurs,” the study authors wrote.