Global increase in wildfire risk due to climate driven declines in fuel moisture
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): T. Michael Ellis; David M. J. S. Bowman; Piyush Jain; Michael D. Flannigan; Grant J. Williamson
Publication Year: 2021

Cataloging Information

  • climate change
  • fire frequency
  • fire intensity
  • fuel moisture
  • net primary productivity
  • pyrogeography
  • reanalysis
  • wildfire
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: November 24, 2021
FRAMES Record Number: 64776


There is mounting concern that global wildfire activity is shifting in frequency, intensity and seasonality in response to climate change. Fuel moisture provides a powerful means of detecting changing fire potential. Here, we use global burned area and weather reanalysis data, and the Canadian Fire Weather Index system to calculate fuel moisture trends for multiscale biogeographic regions across a gradient in vegetation productivity. We quantify the proportion of days in the local fire season between 1979 and 2019 where fuel moisture content is below a critical threshold indicating extreme fire potential. We then associate fuel moisture trends over that period to vegetation productivity and comment on its implications for projected anthropogenic climate change. Overall, there is strong drying trend across realms, biomes, and the productivity gradient. Even where a wetting trend is observed, this often indicates a trend towards increasing fire activity due to an expected increase in fuel production. The detected trends across the productivity gradient lead us to conclude global fire activity will increase with anthropogenic climate change.

Online Link(s):
Ellis, T. Michael; Bowman, David M.J.S.; Jain, Piyush; Flannigan, Mike D.; Williamson, Grant J. 2021. Global increase in wildfire risk due to climate driven declines in fuel moisture. Global Change Biology online early.