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Recent advances and remaining uncertainties in resolving past and future climate effects on global fire activity

Author(s): A. Park Williams, John T. Abatzoglou
Year Published: 2016

Fire is an integral component of the Earth system that will critically affect how terrestrial carbon budgets and living systems respond to climate change. Paleo and observational records document robust positive relationships between fire activity and aridity in many parts of the world on interannual to millennial timescales. Observed increases in fire activity and aridity in many areas over the past several decades motivate curiosity as to the degree to which anthropogenic climate change will alter global fire regimes and subsequently Earth’s terrestrial biosphere. Importantly, fire responses to warming are not ubiquitous and effects by humans, fuels, and non-temperature climate variables are also apparent in both paleo and observational datasets. The complicated and interactive relationships among these variables necessitate quantitative modeling to better understand future fire responses to global change. Macro-scale fire models exhibit a wide spectrum of complexity. Correlation-based models are inherently superior at representing the current global mean distribution of fire activity but future projections developed from these models cannot account for important processes such as CO2 fertilization and vegetation response after extreme events. Process-based models address some of these limitations by explicitly modeling vegetation dynamics, but this requires false assumptions about processes that are not yet well understood. Continued empirical evaluation of interactions between fire, vegetation, climate, and humans, and resultant improvements to both correlation- and process-based macro-fire models, are mandatory to better understand the past and future of the Earth system.

Citation: Williams, A. Park; Abatzoglou, John T. 2016. Recent advances and remaining uncertainties in resolving past and future climate effects on global fire activity. Current Climate Change Reports 2(1):1-14.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather, Fire & Climate
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 15603
FRAMES RCS number: 23509
Record updated: Jun 14, 2018