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      Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013

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          Abstract

          Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyrogeographic shifts. Here we use three daily global climate data sets and three fire danger indices to develop a simple annual metric of fire weather season length, and map spatio-temporal trends from 1979 to 2013. We show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across 29.6 million km 2 (25.3%) of the Earth's vegetated surface, resulting in an 18.7% increase in global mean fire weather season length. We also show a doubling (108.1% increase) of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons (>1.0 σ above the historical mean) and an increased global frequency of long fire weather seasons across 62.4 million km 2 (53.4%) during the second half of the study period. If these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.

          Abstract

          Global wildfires can have severe societal implications and economic cost and have been strongly linked to climate. Here, the authors analyse daily global wildfire trends and show that, during the past 35 years, wildfire season length has increased by 18.7% over more than a quarter of the Earth's surface.

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          Most cited references 7

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          Fire in the Earth system.

          Fire is a worldwide phenomenon that appears in the geological record soon after the appearance of terrestrial plants. Fire influences global ecosystem patterns and processes, including vegetation distribution and structure, the carbon cycle, and climate. Although humans and fire have always coexisted, our capacity to manage fire remains imperfect and may become more difficult in the future as climate change alters fire regimes. This risk is difficult to assess, however, because fires are still poorly represented in global models. Here, we discuss some of the most important issues involved in developing a better understanding of the role of fire in the Earth system.
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            Little change in global drought over the past 60 years.

            Drought is expected to increase in frequency and severity in the future as a result of climate change, mainly as a consequence of decreases in regional precipitation but also because of increasing evaporation driven by global warming. Previous assessments of historic changes in drought over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries indicate that this may already be happening globally. In particular, calculations of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) show a decrease in moisture globally since the 1970s with a commensurate increase in the area in drought that is attributed, in part, to global warming. The simplicity of the PDSI, which is calculated from a simple water-balance model forced by monthly precipitation and temperature data, makes it an attractive tool in large-scale drought assessments, but may give biased results in the context of climate change. Here we show that the previously reported increase in global drought is overestimated because the PDSI uses a simplified model of potential evaporation that responds only to changes in temperature and thus responds incorrectly to global warming in recent decades. More realistic calculations, based on the underlying physical principles that take into account changes in available energy, humidity and wind speed, suggest that there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years. The results have implications for how we interpret the impact of global warming on the hydrological cycle and its extremes, and may help to explain why palaeoclimate drought reconstructions based on tree-ring data diverge from the PDSI-based drought record in recent years.
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              Fire science for rainforests.

               M Cochrane (2003)
              Forest fires are growing in size and frequency across the tropics. Continually eroding fragmented forest edges, they are unintended ecological disturbances that transcend deforestation to degrade vast regions of standing forest, diminishing ecosystem services and the economic potential of these natural resources. Affecting the health of millions, net forest fire emissions may have released carbon equivalent to 41% of worldwide fossil fuel use in 1997-98. Episodically more severe during El Niño events, pan-tropical forest fires will increase as more damaged, less fire-resistant, forests cover the landscape. Here I discuss the current state of tropical fire science and make recommendations for advancement.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nat Commun
                Nat Commun
                Nature Communications
                Nature Publishing Group
                2041-1723
                14 July 2015
                2015
                : 6
                Affiliations
                [1 ]US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory , 5775 Highway 10 West, Missoula, Montana 59803, USA
                [2 ]Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence (GSCE), South Dakota State University , 1021 Medary Avenue, Wecota Hall, Box 506B, Brookings, South Dakota 57007, USA
                [3 ]US Forest Service Region 1 , 200 East Broadway Street, Missoula, Montana 59802, USA
                [4 ]Desert Research Institute (DRI), Western Regional Climate Center , 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, Nevada 89512-1095, USA
                [5 ]School of Biological Sciences, The University of Tasmania , Private Bag 55, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
                Author notes
                Article
                ncomms8537
                10.1038/ncomms8537
                4803474
                26172867
                Copyright © 2015, Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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