7 February 2017 (University of Tasmania) – Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast for Australia and the Mediterranean as the global footprint of extreme fires expands, according to the latest research.
University of Tasmania Professor of Environmental Change Biology David Bowman led an international collaboration - including researchers from the University of Idaho and South Dakota State University - to compile a global satellite database of the intensity of 23 million landscape fires used to identify 478 of the most extreme wildfire events.
“Extreme fire events are a global and natural phenomenon, particularly in forested areas that have pronounced dry seasons,” Professor Bowman said.
“With the exception of land clearance, the research found that extremely intense fires are associated with anomalous weather – such as droughts, winds, or in desert regions, following particularly wet seasons.
“Of the top 478 events, we identified 144 economically and socially disastrous extreme fire events that were concentrated in regions where humans have built into flammable forested landscapes, such as areas surrounding cities in southern Australia and western North America.”
Using climate change model projections to investigate the likely consequences of climate change, the research found more extreme fires are predicted in the future for Australia’s east coast, including Brisbane, and the whole of the Mediterranean region – Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Turkey.
“The projections suggest an increase in the days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50 per cent in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere, and the European Mediterranean Basin,” Professor Bowman said.
The research has been published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The research is released on the day the State remembers the impact of the 1967 bushfires in the city of Hobart and across the South, which claimed the lives of 62 people, left 900 injured and more than 7,000 homeless.
The full article is available online here.
ABSTRACT: Extreme wildfires have substantial economic, social, and environmental impacts, but there is uncertainty whether such events are inevitable features of the Earth’s fire ecology or a legacy of poor management and planning. We identify 478 extreme wildfire events defined as the daily clusters of fire radiative power from MODIS, within a global 10 × 10 km lattice, between 2002 and 2013, which exceeded the 99.997th percentile of over 23 million cases of the ΣFRP 100 km−2 in the MODIS record. These events are globally distributed across all flammable biomes, and are strongly associated with extreme fire weather conditions. Extreme wildfire events reported as being economically or socially disastrous (n = 144) were concentrated in suburban areas in flammable-forested biomes of the western United States and southeastern Australia, noting potential biases in reporting and the absence of globally comprehensive data of fire disasters. Climate change projections suggest an increase in days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50% in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere and European Mediterranean Basin.