Humans Add To Risk Of Natural Fires

Researchers studied the correlation between climate change and natural fires as well as how demographic changes will affect the spread and number of fires and presented their results in Nature Climate Change. This image, from the paper, shows the probability of low-fire regions becoming fire prone (positive values), or of fire-prone areas changing to a low-fire state (negative values) between 1971–2000 and 2071–2100 based on computer model analysis under a specific emissions and population scenario. Courtesy: Authors and Nature Climate Change.Researchers studied the correlation between climate change and natural fires as well as how demographic changes will affect the spread and number of fires and presented their results in Nature Climate Change. This image, from the paper, shows the probability of low-fire regions becoming fire prone (positive values), or of fire-prone areas changing to a low-fire state (negative values) between 1971–2000 and 2071–2100 based on computer model analysis under a specific emissions and population scenario. Courtesy: Authors and Nature Climate Change.

Demographic changes increase the risk of natural fires. Researchers studied the correlation between an increasingly warmer climate and various types of natural fires. They have also studied how  demographic changes will have a major impact on the spread and number of fires, and to what extent they pose a threat to humans.

From Lund University

In many parts of the world, grass and forest fires pose a threat to animals and humans. According to a new study from Lund University in Sweden, while climate change is likely to cause more and larger fires, in the future, more and more people will become directly affected as a result of demographic changes.

Wolfgang Knorr at Lund University, together with colleagues from Germany and China, has studied the correlation between an increasingly warmer climate and various types of natural fires in different parts of the world. They have also studied another, and more unknown, aspect of these fires. According to Wolfgang Knorr, demographic changes will have a major impact on the spread and number of fires, and to what extent they pose a threat to humans.

“Our most important result is that demographic changes can have a greater impact than climate change, in terms of the increased risk. The biggest reason as to why more and more people will be affected in the future is the increasing number of people who live in, or on the border of, areas that are prone to fires”, says Wolfgang Knorr.

The study shows that climate change will lead to an increased number of fires in natural environments in North America, southern Europe, central Asia, and main parts of South America. In Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia and South America, population change will lead to a decreased number of fires.

Population movement also means that in some areas there are hardly any people left. This also has effects on the number of fires and how they spread.

“When an area has no human population, there is a risk that the fires increase and are able to spread. Our study shows that climate change is intimately connected to urban and rural planning, showing that the risks can be minimised through effective planning”, says Wolfgang Knorr.

The study involved gathering all available global data on natural fires that have been recorded via satellite since 1997. The data was then run through a model using different scenarios of changes in vegetation based on climate change and increased carbon dioxide emissions. The study is published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

Abstract

Wildfires are an important component of terrestrial ecosystem ecology but also a major natural hazard to societies, and their frequency and spatial distribution must be better understood. At a given location, risk from wildfire is associated with the annual fraction of burned area, which is expected to increase in response to climate warming. Until recently, however, only a few global studies of future fire have considered the effects of other important global environmental change factors such as atmospheric CO2 levels and human activities, and how these influence fires in dierent regions. Here, we contrast the impact of climate change and increasing atmospheric CO2 content on burned area with that of demographic dynamics, using ensembles of climate simulations combined with historical and projected population changes under dierent socio-economic development pathways for 1901–2100. Historically, humans notably suppressed wildfires. For future scenarios, global burned area will continue to decline under a moderate emissions scenario, except for low population growth and fast urbanization, but start to increase again from around mid-century under high greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to common perception, we find that human exposure to wildfires increases in the future mainly owing to projected population growth in areas with frequent wildfires, rather than by a general increase in burned area.

Citation

Knorr, W., Arneth, A. and Jiang L (2016); Demographic controls of global future fire risk; Published in Nature Climate ChangeDOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2999.

Source

Lund University news release issued via EurekAlert!

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