Wildfire in a Changing World

  • 7 December 2018
  • Author: Frederika Bain
  • Number of views: 3780
Wildfire in a Changing World

A new research paper published by Clay Trauernicht (NREM) in the journal Science of the Total Environment is the first study to link climate change to increasing wildfire probability in Hawai‘i and is one of the few that looks at this question for tropical regions more broadly. He explains that since fire in tropical ecosystems is driven by cycles of wet and dry periods, it’s harder to pin to climate change than in temperate areas where longer summertime “fire seasons” provide a clearer signal. However, Clay used the “footprints” of historical fires mapped on the Big Island by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization to quantify how vegetation, ignition frequency, and climate contribute to wildfire probability, a novel approach that can show not only places where fire risk is highest but also how changes in rainfall and temperature can change patterns of fire risk across the landscape. His analysis indicates that climate change will increase the annual risk of wildfire by as much as 375% for parts of the Big Island and that most of this change will happen within the next several decades. Drying and warming trends on Hawai‘i Island, he predicts, will cause areas of highest wildfire probability to shift upwards in elevation, a shift that has critical implications for protecting upland natural resources and can help identify where fire risk mitigation should be prioritized in coming decades.