Future southcentral US wildfire probability due to climate change

Abstract

Globally, changing fire regimes due to climate is one of the greatest threats to ecosystems and society. In this paper, we present projections of future fire probability for the southcentral USA using downscaled climate projections and the Physical Chemistry Fire Frequency Model (PC2FM). Future fire probability is projected to both increase and decrease across the study region of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Among all end-of-century projections, change in fire probabilities (CFPs) range from − 51 to + 240%. Greatest absolute increases in fire probability are shown for areas within the range of approximately 75 to 160 cm mean annual precipitation (MAP), regardless of climate model. Although fire is likely to become more frequent across the southcentral USA, spatial patterns may remain similar unless significant increases in precipitation occur, whereby more extensive areas with increased fire probability are predicted. Perhaps one of the most important results is illumination of climate changes where fire probability response (+, −) may deviate (i.e., tipping points). Fire regimes of southcentral US ecosystems occur in a geographic transition zone from reactant- to reaction-limited conditions, potentially making them uniquely responsive to different scenarios of temperature and precipitation changes. Identification and description of these conditions may help anticipate fire regime changes that will affect human health, agriculture, species conservation, and nutrient and water cycling.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the National Science Foundation (NSF), Idaho EPSCoR, and the individual investigators responsible for the future climate projection data sets. In addition, we acknowledge the modeling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset. Support of this dataset is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Funding

This project was funded, in part, by the US Geological Survey, South Central Climate Science Center, in cooperation with the University of Missouri, Columbia and the Great Rivers Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit.

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Correspondence to Michael C. Stambaugh.

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Stambaugh, M.C., Guyette, R.P., Stroh, E.D. et al. Future southcentral US wildfire probability due to climate change. Climatic Change 147, 617–631 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2156-8

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Keywords

  • Mean fire interval
  • Physical Chemistry Fire Frequency Model (PC2FM)
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas