- Author: Sarah Yang, Media Relations, UC Berkeley News Center
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
For the full story, see the UC Berkeley News Center.
BERKELEY —June 12th, 2012. Climate change is widely expected to disrupt future fire patterns around the world, with some regions, such as the western United States, seeing more frequent fires within the next 30 years, according to a new analysis led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with an international team of scientists.
Fires burn across the hillside near homes in Portola Hills, Calif.
By the end of the century, almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily because of increasing temperature trends. At the same time, fire activity could actually decrease around equatorial regions, particularly among the tropical rainforests, because of increased rainfall.
The study, published today (Tuesday, June 12) in Ecosphere, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America, used 16 different climate change models to generate what the researchers said is one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change might affect global fire patterns.
“In the long run, we found what most fear — increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet,” said study lead author Max Moritz, fire specialist in UC Cooperative Extension. “But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising.”
“These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affect people’s livelihoods,” Moritz added, “but they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss.”
The projections emphasize how important it is for experts in conservation and urban development to include fire in long-term planning and risk analysis, added Moritz, who is based at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources.
UC Berkeley researchers worked with an atmospheric scientist from Texas Tech University to combine over a decade of satellite-based fire records with historical climate observations and model simulations of future change. The authors documented gradients between fire-prone and fire-free areas of Earth, and quantified the environmental factors responsible for these patterns. They then used these relationships to simulate how future climate change would drive future fire activity through the coming century as projected by a range of global climate models.
“Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world, or relied upon only a handful of climate models,” said study co-author Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. “Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate.”
The fire models in this study are based on climate averages that include mean annual precipitation and mean temperature of the warmest month. These variables tend to control long-term biomass productivity and how flammable that fuel can get during the fire season, the researchers said.
Variables that reflect more ephemeral fluctuations in climate, such as annual rainfall shifts due to El Niño cycles, were not included because they vary over shorter periods of time, and future climate projections are only considered representative for averages over time periods of 20-30 years or longer, the authors said.
The study found that the greatest disagreements among models occur for the next few decades, with uncertainty across more than half the planet about whether fire activity will increase or decrease. However, some areas of the world, such as the western United States, show a high level of agreement in climate models both near-term and long-term, resulting in a stronger conclusion that those regions should brace themselves for more fire.
“When many different models paint the same picture, that gives us confidence that the results of our study reflect a robust fire frequency projection for that region,” said Hayhoe. “What is clear is that the choices we are making as a society right now and in the next few decades will determine what Earth’s climate will look like over this century and beyond.”
“We need to learn how to coexist with fire,” said Moritz.
Study co-author David Ganz, who was director of forest carbon science at The Nature Conservancy at the time of the study, noted the significance of the findings for populations that rely upon fire-sensitive ecosystems.
“In Southeast Asia alone, there are millions of people that depend on forested ecosystems for their livelihoods,” he said. “Knowing how climate and fire interact are important factors that one needs to consider when managing landscapes to maintain these ecosystem goods and services.”
The researchers noted that the models they developed focused on fire frequencies, and that linking these to other models of fire intensity and vegetation change are important next steps.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Science Foundation and The Nature Conservancy helped support this study./span>
- Author: Lenya N. Quinn-Davidson
- Contact: Pamela Kan-Rice, (530) 754-3912, email@example.com
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
Sudden oak death (SOD) has been spreading among trees throughout coastal California and Oregon for the last 15 years. In that short time, the disease has infested 10 percent of California’s at-risk habitat and killed over a million tanoak and true oak trees, raising major concerns about the potential impacts of further pathogen spread. The disease is caused by the non-native pathogen Phytophthora ramorum.
Research by UC Cooperative Extension staff in Humboldt County shows that infection and oak mortality are only the beginning of the story, as the disease may increase forest fuels and put infested stands at higher risk of severe wildfire.
UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor Yana Valachovic, with assistance from Humboldt State University’s Forestry Department and CAL FIRE, found that in Douglas-fir-tanoak forests where high hardwood mortality is related to SOD, fuels can build up to hazardous levels on the forest floor over time. Their research documented fuels buildups in infected areas that could increase a wildfire’s flame length by 3 to 4 feet and double a wildfire’s rate of spread, depending on how much time has elapsed since initial infection.
Not only does SOD alter fuel quantity in these forest types, but it can also affect moisture levels and the arrangements of fuels, posing serious challenges to firefighter response in infested stands. The disease drastically reduces the moisture content of foliage, and after trees die, they remain standing with dry, dead leaves for a few years – greatly increasing the likelihood of crown fire under extreme weather conditions.
Likewise, the increased fuels on the forest floor can take a long time to break down, posing a long-term fire hazard and additional risks to firefighters.
“The disease creates a hazardous fuels situation that is passed on to firefighters during wildfire," says Valachovic. "They must combat blazing downed trees, patches of increased winds and fire behavior, and other physical and logistical obstacles.”
Hugh Scanlon, chief of CAL FIRE's Alder Conservation Camp, helped co-author the recent paper with Valachovic and others.
"In many cases, modeled wildfire conditions in sudden oak death affected forests exceed safety thresholds for handcrews, calling for changing suppression tactics and strategies," Scanlon says. "This can mean more heavy equipment, aircraft use, indirect lines and more area burned with higher intensity.”
Sudden oak death is still a relatively new disease in California, and the long-term ecological consequences of SOD infection and spread are largely unknown. However, this research shows that fuels are one of the major issues associated with the disease, and will require increased attention and management in coming years. For more information about this study, see the full paper, which was published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112711001228.
To see a map showing the locations of sudden oak death in California, go to http://www.oakmapper.org/. At the website, you can also download the Oakmapper iPhone app to help UC scientists monitor the disease by reporting suspected cases of sudden oak death.
- Author: Susie Kocher
The new California Fire Science Consortium has launched it's new website: http://www.cafiresci.org/. Along with a number of other regional groups across the United States, the University of California Berkeley received multi-year funding from the Joint Fire Science Program to improve the quality and timeliness of the two-way movement of fire science information between scientists, land managers, and stakeholders in the state’s fire community.
The primary goals of the consortium are yo become a clearinghouse for all fire science resources relevant to the regions within the state of California, and to encourage collaboration between fire researchers and land managers and other stakeholders. Planned activities include listing and describing existing research and synthesis information; assessing the quality and applicability of research; demonstrating research in the field; and addressing new research, synthesis, and validation needs from managers and stakeholders.
The California Fire Science Consortium is divided into five teams - four regional teams (northern California, Sierra Nevada, Central and Southern California, Mojave Desert) and one team devoted to the Wildland-Urban Interface for the entire state. For more information, see the project website or contact coordinator Tim Kline, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Posted By: Susie Kocher
- Written by: Susie Kocher
The second annual Lake Tahoe Basin Wildfire Awareness Week will be held May 28th to June 5th 2011. The theme this year is “Get Defensive: We’re Counting on You!” The focus of the week will be to promote community based defensible space activities. Fire agencies, fire safe chapters and local organizations will collaborate to hold community clean up days including offering free chipping and pine needle pick-ups and hosting neighborhood meetings and educational activities. Check the Living with Fire website at www.livingwithfire.info/tahoe to find out about events in your area.
The goal of the Lake Tahoe Basin Wildfire Awareness Week is to encourage individual action to reduce the threat of wildfire to homes and communities. Activities will provide information and resources to create defensible space around homes. Creating defensible space involves selecting and maintaining vegetation near the home, thereby reducing the risk homes will be ignited and destroyed during a wildfire. It takes coordinated effort between individuals and local fire and other agencies to prepare a community to survive wildfire. We are counting on you to play your part in protecting Lake Tahoe Basin communities from wildfire. Please join in wildfire week activities to “get defensive” with others in your community. For information on how to create defensible space in the Tahoe Basin see www.livingwithfire.info/tahoe, or contact Susie Kocher at 530-542-2571 or email@example.com
- Posted By: Susie Kocher
- Written by: Jeanette Warnert
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety announced last week that Stephen Quarles will join the IBHS research team as senior scientist - hurricane/high-wind building durability and fire protection.
He will also occupy the South Carolina Wind and Hail Underwriting Association Hazard Resilience Chair at the IBHS Research Center.
Quarles has been a wood durability advisor for UC Cooperative Extension since 2000.
“Although my years with UC Cooperative Extension were very rewarding, I could not pass up the opportunity to work for IBHS and in particular at the Research Center with its scientists and staff," Quarles was quoted in the news release. "I am excited to have a more direct role in IBHS research and outreach activities that will help improve the durability of our new and existing buildings.”
Quarles has a bachelor's degree in forestry from Virginia Tech, and master's and doctorate degrees in forest products from the University of Minnesota. He is co-chair of the eXtension Wildfire Information Network (eWIN) Community of Practice, and is a member of the Society of Wood Science and Technology, the Forest Products Society, American Society of Testing and Materials, American Wood Protection Association, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals.
“Steve brings a wealth of experience in the areas of wood durability, aging, water penetration, and wildfire - all critical aspects of our field and laboratory research programs," the release quoted Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “We have long admired Steve's meticulous, incredibly smart work, and look forward to having him add new dimensions to our already impressive group of property loss mitigation experts.”
Quarles begins his new position Aug. 1.