Human exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events

TitleHuman exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBowman, DMJS
Secondary AuthorsWilliamson, GJ
Tertiary AuthorsAbatzoglou, JT
Subsidiary AuthorsKolden, CA, Cochrane, MA, Smith, AMS
JournalNature Ecology & Evolution
Keywordsclimate change and fire, fire effects and fire ecology, technical reports and journal articles

Extreme wildfires have substantial economic, social and environmental impacts, but there is uncertainty whether such events are inevitable features of the Earth’s fire ecology or a legacy of poor management and planning. We identify 478 extreme wildfire events defined as the daily clusters of fire radiative power from MODIS, within a global 10 × 10 km lattice, between 2002 and 2013, which exceeded the 99.997th percentile of over 23 million cases of the ΣFRP 100 km−2 in the MODIS record. These events are globally distributed across all flammable biomes, and are strongly associated with extreme fire weather conditions. Extreme wildfire events reported as being economically or socially disastrous (n = 144) were concentrated in suburban areas in flammable-forested biomes of the western United States and southeastern Australia, noting potential biases in reporting and the absence of globally comprehensive data of fire disasters. Climate change projections suggest an increase in days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50% in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere and European Mediterranean Basin.