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Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland

Author(s): Elise M. Verhoeven, Brad R. Murray, Christopher R. Dickman, Glenda M. Wardle, Aaron C. Greenville
Year Published: 2020

Assessing wildfire regimes and their environmental drivers is critical for effective land management and conservation. We used Landsat imagery to describe the wildfire regime of the north-eastern Simpson Desert (Australia) between 1972 and 2014, and to quantify the relationship between wildfire extent and rainfall. Wildfires occurred in 15 of the 42 years, but only 27% of the study region experienced multiple wildfires. A wildfire in 1975 burned 43% of the region and is the largest on record for the area. More recently, a large wildfire in 2011 reburned areas that had not burned since 1975 (47% of the 2011 wildfire), as well as new areas that had no record of wildfires (25% of the 2011 wildfire). The mean minimum wildfire return interval was 27 years, comparable with other spinifex-dominated grasslands, and the mean time since last wildfire was 21 years. Spinifex-dominated vegetation burned most frequently and over the largest area. Extreme annual rainfall events (> 93rd percentile) effectively predicted large wildfires occurring 2 years after those events. Extreme rainfall is predicted to increase in magnitude and frequency across central Australia, which could alter wildfire regimes and have unpredictable and far-reaching effects on ecosystems in the region’s arid landscapes.

Citation: Verhoeven, Elise M.; Murray, Brad R.; Dickman, Christopher R.; Wardle, Glenda M.; Greenville, Aaron C. 2020. Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland. International Journal of Wildland Fire 29(8):702-711.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather, Fire Regime, Fire Return Intervals, Mapping
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 21749
FRAMES RCS number: 61785
Record updated: Sep 3, 2020