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Drought and fire in the western USA: Is climate attribution enough?

Author(s): Jeremy S. Littell
Year Published: 2018

Purpose of Review: I sought to review the contributions of recent literature and prior foundational papers to our understanding of drought and fire. In this review, I summarize recent literature on drought and fire in the western USA and discuss research directions that may increase the utility of that body of work for twenty-first century application. I then describe gaps in the synthetic knowledge of drought-driven fire in managed ecosystems and use concepts from use-inspired research to describe potentially useful extensions of current work.

Recent Findings: Fire responses to climate, and specifically various kinds of drought, are clear, but vary widely with fuel responses to surplus water and drought at different timescales. Ecological and physical factors interact with human management and ignitions to create fire regime and landscape trajectories that challenge prediction.

Summary: The mechanisms by which the climate system affects regional droughts and how they translate to fire in the western USA need more attention to accelerate both forecasting and adaptation. However, projections of future fire activity under climate change will require integrated advances on both fronts to achieve decision-relevant modeling. Concepts from transdisciplinary research and coupled human-natural systems can help frame strategic work to address fire in a changing world.

Citation: Littell, Jeremy S. 2018. Drought and fire in the western USA: is climate attribution enough? Current Climate Change Reports 4(4): 396-406. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40641-018-0109-y
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Fire & Climate, Fuels, Recovery after fire, Resilience
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 21257
FRAMES RCS number: 56398
Record updated: May 12, 2020