International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Forest fire occurrence and climate change in Canada

B. M. Wotton A D , C. A. Nock B and M. D. Flannigan C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Canadian Forest Service–Natural Resources Canada, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, M5S 3B3, Canada.

B Institute of Botany, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, 1180 Vienna, Austria.

C Canadian Forest Service–Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 2E5, Canada.

D Corresponding author. Email: mwotton@nrcan.gc.ca

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(3) 253-271 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF09002
Submitted: 8 January 2009  Accepted: 12 October 2009   Published: 13 May 2010

Abstract

The structure and function of the boreal forest are significantly influenced by forest fires. The ignition and growth of fires depend quite strongly on weather; thus, climate change can be expected to have a considerable impact on forest fire activity and hence the structure of the boreal forest. Forest fire occurrence is an extremely important element of fire activity as it defines the load on suppression resources a fire management agency will face. We used two general circulation models (GCMs) to develop projections of future fire occurrence across Canada. While fire numbers are projected to increase across all forested regions studied, the relative increase in number of fires varies regionally. Overall across Canada, our results from the Canadian Climate Centre GCM scenarios suggest an increase in fire occurrence of 25% by 2030 and 75% by the end of the 21st century. Results projected from fire climate scenarios derived from the Hadley Centre GCM suggest fire occurrence will increase by 140% by the end of this century. These general increases in fire occurrence across Canada agree with other regional and national studies of the impacts of climate change on fire activity. Thus, in the absence of large changes to current climatic trends, significant fire regime induced changes in the boreal forest ecosystem are likely.


Acknowledgements

Datasets used in this analysis have been obtained from various provincial forest fire management agencies throughout Canada over several years (for numerous projects). The authors thank each of these organizations for their contribution and collaboration. The late Bernie Todd (Canadian Forest Service) was instrumental in assembling large portions of these provincial forest fire datasets and creating a common set of attributes that could be comparable. It was Bernie Todd who originally held discussions when this national analysis began. Fire weather streams based on Environment Canada weather station data come from previous work and were assembled with the grateful assistance of Walter Skinner of the Meteorological Service of Canada (Environment Canada). We also acknowledge the Canadian government’s Program for Energy Research and Development for support of this research.


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A Temperature, relative humidity, 10 m open wind speed and 24-h accumulation of rainfall all recorded at 1200 hours Local Standard Time (LST).

B This classification of the current and previous day’s total rainfall (RT) into categories was based on a simple analysis of rainfall associated with lightning in an ecoregion in central Alberta and Saskatchewan (ecoregion 147, the Mid-Boreal Uplands) that we believed was representative of the boreal forest, using data from 1984-2004. The goal was to make a simpler classification system for rainfall because of the strongly skewed nature of the daily rainfall distribution. The rainfall levels simply corresponded to the 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th and 95th percentiles of daily rainfall that occurred on days with lightning in this region. This new variable, RCLASS, was thus classified as follows. RCLASS = 0, RT ≤ 0.3; 1, 0.3 < RT ≤ 0.9; 2, 0.9 < RT ≤ 2.3; 3, 2.3 < RT ≤ 4.8; 4, 4.8 < RT ≤ 7.3; 5, RT > 7.3. All values are in mm. Similar category breaks were found for neighbouring ecoregions.

C Model results from B. M. Wotton (unpubl. data) from the implementation of the Wotton and Martell (2005) model into operations in the province of Ontario. Similar results were also found for models developed for the province of Saskatchewan using the same model form.

D Historical DMC maximums were only exceeded in the Hadley 2090 general circulation model (GCM) scenario in the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec and only on 0.08, 0.6 and 2.3% of ecoregion-days respectively and in the CCC 2090 GCM only in Ontario on 1.8% of ecoregion-days.


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