Posts Tagged ‘global’

Future fires

November 11th, 2016 No comments

There is a tendency to think that fires will increase in the near future due to global warming. This is because many fire risk prediction are based on climate only. However fire regime changes not only depend on climate [1]; there are other factors, like land-use changes, CO2, plant invasion, fragmentation, etc. that are also important drivers of change in fire activity [1]. Even plant drought stress (and flammability) not only depends on climate [2,3].

A recent simulation study [4] suggests that global burned area is certainly predicted to increase in the following decades when simulations are based on climate only (blue line in the figure below). However, adding the effect increased CO2 reduces the predicted burned area to no increase (green line below). Furthermore, when adding increased population density and urbanization (black and red lines), the model predicts much more area burnt in the last century (black lines 1900-2000) and a reduction of future burned area (red lines). The predicted reduction of fire during 1900-2000 is consistent with global charcoal records [5] and can be explained by increasing agriculture, land use and fragmentation. Overall, this study suggests that global area burned is unlikely to increase in the following decades.

Note that 1) this is a model, so take it with caution! 2) This model is at the global scale, but changes in different directions are expected in different regions, and this can have biodiversity consequences (even if the global balance is steady); for instance, in the Mediterranean Basin, fire are likely to keep increasing as land abandonment and fuels are increasing [6]. And 3) there is a high uncertainty in some fire drivers. For instance, temperature is likely to keep increasing, however, rainfall and wind changes are very uncertain, and landuse and emissions are subject to uncertain changes in environmental policies in different countries. In any case, this study gives us an idea of the possible sensitivity of different parameters.

Figure: Simulation of global area burned for 1900 to 2100 under different scenarios: a) climate only (blue line); b) climate + CO2 (green); c) climate + CO2 + population & urbanization (black lines; red area for the future predictions). From [4].

[1] Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E., 2014. Abrupt climate-independent fire regime changes. Ecosystems 17: 1109-1120. [doi | pdf | blog]

[2] De Cáceres M, et al. 2015. Coupling a water balance model with forest inventory data to predict drought stress: the role of forest structural changes vs. climate changes. Agr. For. Meteorol. 213: 77–90. [doi | pdf | suppl. | blog]

[3] Luo, Y. & H. Y. H. Chen. 2015. Climate change-associated tree mortality increases without decreasing water availability. Ecol, Let. 18:1207-1215.

[4] Knorr W, Arneth A, & Jiang L, 2016. Demographic controls of future global fire risk. Nature Clim. Change 6:781-785.

[5] Marlon JR, et al. (2008). Climate and human influences on global biomass burning over the past two millennia. Nature Geosci, 1, 697-702.

[6] Pausas J.G. & Fernández-Muñoz S. 2012. Fire regime changes in the Western Mediterranean Basin: from fuel-limited to drought-driven fire regime. Climatic Change 110: 215-226. [doi | pdf | blog]


The fire overview effect

September 18th, 2016 No comments

The overview effect is the feeling and awareness reported by some astronauts when viewing the entire Earth during space-flight. Fire ecologists have our own overview effect! When remote sensed fire information was available for the first time at the global scale, it provided a magnificent and unprecedented view of the importance of fires on the Earth, and fires become a global issue. This remotely sensed information was a very valuable data because, for the first time, it was possible study some fire ecology processes at the global scale (for example [1]). Here is an animation for a 10 years period (2000-2010). It shows that on our planet, fires are widespread and something is always burning; we live in a flammable planet.


MODIS Rapid Response System Global Fire Maps, NASA. Each colored dot indicates a location where MODIS detected at least one fire during a 10-day period.

More global fire animations: youtube | Earth Observatory |


[1] Pausas J.G. & Ribeiro E. 2013. The global fire-productivity relationship. Global Ecol. & Biogeogr. 22: 728-736. [doi | pdf | appendix | erratum | blog]


A new global fire map

March 6th, 2013 2 comments

We have used remotely sensed fire information for the whole globe and aggregated this information by the WWF ecoregions, to produce an ecologically-based global fire map (figure below [1]). Using this map we have tested the intermediate fire-productivity model [2,3], i.e. that fire activity changes along the productivity/aridity gradient following a humped relationship. The results suggest that fires occur in all biomes and in nearly all world ecoregions. Fire activity peaked in tropical grasslands and savannas, and significantly decreased towards the extremes of the productivity gradient. Both the sensitivity of fire to high temperatures and the above-ground biomass increased monotonically with productivity. In other words, fire activity in low-productivity ecosystems is not driven by warm periods and is limited by low biomass; in contrast, in high-productivity ecosystems fire is more sensitive to high temperatures, and in these ecosystems, the available biomass for fires is high. The results support the intermediate fire–productivity model on a global scale and suggest that climatic warming may affect fire activity differently depending on the productivity of the region. Fire regimes in productive regions are more vulnerable to warming (drought-driven fire regime changes), while in low-productivity regions fire activity is more vulnerable to fuel changes (fuel-driven fire regime changes [4]).

Figure: An ecologically-based global fire map, from Pausas & Ribeiro (2013) [1]. The shape file is available under request [email here].

[1] Pausas J.G. & Ribeiro E. 2013. The global fire-productivity relationship. Global Ecol. & Biogeogr. 22: 728-736 [doi | pdf | erratum] - UPDATE: Paper featured by NASA.

[2] Pausas J.G. & Paula S. 2012. Fuel shapes the fire-climate relationship: evidence from Mediterranean ecosystems. Global Ecol. & Biogeogr. 21: 1074-1082. [doi | pdf | supp]

[3] Pausas J.G. & Bradstock R.A. 2007. Fire persistence traits of plants along a productivity and disturbance gradient in Mediterranean shrublands of SE Australia. Global Ecol. & Biogeogr. 330-340. [pdf | doi]

[4] Pausas J.G. & Fernández-Muñoz S. 2012. Fire regime changes in the Western Mediterranean Basin: from fuel-limited to drought-driven fire regime. Climatic Change 110: 215-226.  [doi |  pdf]



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